January 02, 2014
Do you have a favorite way to sleep, or a favorite position? Given a third of our lives are spent sleeping, it's no surprise that there have been a variety of beliefs and practices regarding just how to sleep properly.
Ancient civilizations compared sleep with death, often believing that the soul left the body while a person slept, sometimes with surprising local twists. Romanians thought that it was bad to sleep with your mouth open, as your soul would take the form of a mouse and run off; and if the mouse hadn't returned by sunrise, you would never wake. Most people today don't worry about losing their soul-mouse, but modern cultures aren't immune to superstition. A common belief in South Korea is the idea that leaving an electric fan running in a closed room while sleeping can cause death by asphyxiation or hypothermia, and this is held so-widely true that electric fans are sold with timers so they will shut off automatically after a given period of time, despite the lack of evidence of the phenomenon ever truly occurring.
A belief with more plausibility is the possibility that the direction you sleep could matter. Indian tradition says that sleeping with your head to the east is best, and to avoid sleeping to the north. The British botanist and women's rights activist Marie Stopes thought that sleeping in a north-south direction - so as to be aligned with the Earth's magnetic field - was best. On a more practical note, most homes in the northern hemisphere will have windows facing the south for the best sunlight, and this means a north-facing sleeper will have the sun shining right into her eyes when waking, so it can't hurt to avoid it.
Historically most people did not sleep for an uninterrupted period throughout the night, but instead slept for four hours, woke and went back to bed one or two hours later. References to “first sleep” and “second sleep” are very common in writings before the 17th century. Only when lighting the streets and homes at night with candles, oil lamps and electricity came into common use did the modern eight-hour sleep period become common. Historian Roger Ekirch believes this two-period segmented sleep is the natural human pattern. Should you wake up in the middle of the night perhaps it's not insomnia after all, just your body telling you how you ought to be sleeping!
Many parents swear by the practice of sleeping with their babies. Many doctors today discourage this due to the risk of accidentally smothering an infant, but the evidence is not entirely against co-sleeping. Should you have a baby you wish to sleep with the best practice is to make sure the child sleeps on the mother's side of the bed, as her body will naturally adjust for the presence of the baby. She should also have the baby near her chest, not up at the head, to reduce the possibility of accidentally smothering the child with the bed covers or a pillow.
How do you prefer to sleep? Tell us below!
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