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When you think of sleep you it is hard to think of anything outside or your 8 hours of hopefully uninterrupted bliss on your own mattress. However, if History has anything to show us it’s we have changed and adapted out of necessity. This happens to hold true for sleep.
The more evolved we get, and the more experiences we face the more impact it has on every aspect of life. And like anyone who has taken a middle school science class knows, Darwin makes it clear that adaption is crucial for survival. We are very use to our traditional style of sleep, but what are some untraditional sleeping methods? And why do they exist? Keep reading to learn how History, as well as the future, impact our sleep routine.
Traditional Sleeping: Horizontal
Horizontal sleeping has been the default human resting position for hundreds of thousands of years. Basically since our earliest ancestors experimented with trading sleep in trees for sleep on the ground. At least when they felt relatively safe. Even modern chimpanzees are known to sleep in both places.
Lying flat requires almost no muscular effort, and it allows our bodies to zone out as completely as possible. Of course, the deeper we go into unconsciousness, the more vulnerable we become. So it seems likely that people got the best sleep in the company of fellow humans. By increasing the chances that one of them might be awake enough to sense approaching danger. Unlike a lone sleeper who is left far more at risk for sleeping for eternity.
Less Traditional Sleeping: On An Incline
Sleeping horizontal to the ground seems to be our human preference, but there are exceptions. First Dynasty Egyptian beds were almost always inclined and required footboards to prevent the sleepers from sliding onto the floor.
The reasons for the slant design are not clear, but I should mention there is still an audience for inclined sleep – and companies offering to supply it. The modern rationale involves claims about healthier lymph systems, among other blessings. Advocates of the practice point to other species of mammals preferring to sleep on a head-higher-than-tail- incline that indicates it is a natural-world confirmation of the benefits.
Even still many claim that inclining the head of the bed, even by just a few inches can help with many conditions. Including snoring, breathing problems and even joint pain. Thank goodness for the modern development of the adjustable base. Giving you an incredible and effortless way to experiment with incline, decline and everything in between.
Curious what adjustable base would work for you? Learn more about these new fangled sleep additions HERE!
Untraditional Sleeping: Upright
The most extreme and rarest sleep practice is going full-perpendicular. We’ve all heard the expression, “asleep on your feet.” It usually means only “really, really tired.” But sleeping upright does happen.
For horses, for instance upright dozing is often a preferred orientation; with humans it’s usually unintentional. But it is a known phenomenon, especially in conditions of extreme fatigue. There are credible accounts, going back to the Civil War, of soldiers being so tired they slept upright as they marched. Forced laborers in WWII concentration camps reported the same phenomena. The son of one described his father’s experience:
“My father has told me a couple times how, once in a (slave) labor camp under the Nazis, he was put on a forced march for “a week or so.” If you fell, you were shot. So, he was forced to learn how to “sleep” while marching. Every time he has mentioned this, he is amazed on how on earth anyone can sleep like that. He does remember jerking his head up, the way you do when you catch yourself nodding off.”
Animals Do It
Unlike humans, some large grazing animals, including horses, can enter “slow wave” sleep in an upright position. It is not the deep REM sleep they get when lying down – more like a deep doze. And, surprisingly, most large herbivores need relatively little deep REM sleep. Cows get by on about four hours; horses and elephants need only about three hours.
Surprisingly, it is giraffes who are the short-sleep champions of the mammal world. An adult giraffe requires only about 30 minutes of REM sleep in a 24 day. Wouldn’t it be nice if humans needed only half an hour of sleep per night? (of course, our employers would probably lengthen the standard work day to 16 hours.)
So how are horses and their relatives able to “sleep” without falling over or collapsing? The answer is that they have a “stay apparatus,” that allows them to relax their muscles and instead use tendons and ligaments to “lock” into a standing position – a position that has the advantage of allowing a much faster response to a predator attack than if they had to rise from horizontal.
Humans lack such a locking mechanism, and even if we had one it would still be more difficult for us two legged creatures to balance ourselves in a vertical position. With four legs, stable upright sleeping is a relatively easy business – unless you’re a fainting goat.
With only two legs, unconscious humans tend to hit the ground almost as fast as the goat in the photos.
Very Untraditional Sleeping: In Space
In the examples of the soldiers, the concentration camp inmate and the horses, going to sleep upright was a rare survival response. The slightly angled (five to ten degrees) sleep of the Egyptians was simply a minor variation on horizontal sleep. But now that extended stays in space are a reality, we are faced with a new sleep challenge: the lack of any sense of “up” or “down.”
Other than arbitrary arrangement of a space station interior, astronauts have no notion of sleeping upright, horizontal or some angle in between – the terms have no meaning. But despite that lack of orientation, some astronauts find comfortable sleep in space.
Marsha Ivins and Dan Barry have spent a total of 42 nights in space and, after a day or two of adjustment, both said they were able to sleep very comfortably. “Sleeping in space is fantastic!” said Barry. “You just float… and it’s perfect.” He said that on Earth he will sometimes wake up with his arm numbed after sleeping with his weight on it. That can’t happen in space. There is no weight.
Sleeping In Space: How To Adjust
For Ivins, the initial minor problem was blanket feel. On Earth she likes sleeping under a little weight: “I’m one of those ‘likes to sleep under lots and lots of covers’ people,” she says. But in space, not even the heaviest blanket will lie on you. And even if you Velcro it to your body, there is no sensation of weight on top of you.
Both astronauts also found it impossible to stay “curled up.” In space, it is hard to stay in a single position; the tendency is to stretch out. The only way Ivins and Barry could curl up was by using a Velcro strap to hold their knees together.
Pillows are another issue in weightlessness. Ivins attached her pillow to her head, again using Velcro. Otherwise the pillow floated away and she’d awake with a stiff neck.
Once they accommodated, however, both Barry and Ivins were able to sleep whenever they felt the need. And no matter where they were in the space station. They just closed their eyes and fell asleep almost immediately. Said Barry, “It’s just totally relaxed sleeping. I love it,” (And yes, people do snore in space.)
Untraditional Sleeping – Is It For You?
Sounds appealing, doesn’t it? Fortunately for the mattress industry, that unsupported “relaxed sleeping” is not a possibility for most of us. It is also not the case that all astronauts find sleeping in space as comfortable as did as Ivins and Barry. Nasa reports that, next to painkillers, sleeping pills are the drugs most commonly requested in space.
Astronaut schedules allow for eight hours of sleep every day. But even with relaxation training and medication, most astronauts average an hour less sleep than they get on Earth. If we get to the point of colonizing distant planets, the ability to sleep in space will likely be a requirement for selection. But I don’t care how comfortable I might find sleeping in a gravity-free environment. I want to wake up on the most comfortable earthly mattress I can find, then open the curtains to a scene of greenery and life.
This article was written by Our Sleep Guide’s outstanding contributing writer, Uncle CT!