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January 13, 2008 5:40 PM   Subscribe

What online reads can you recommend on the subject of circadian rhythms and rituals, preferably from an anthropological and/or historical point of view?

I'm especially curious about examples where norms differ markedly from established contemporary western ones, e.g. "In Victorian England, it was customary to have five meals every day" or "To this day, tribes in Snarkania appoint night watchmen who stay up through the night and sleep during the daytime" (examples completely made up and intentionally oversimplified). Articles - science, journalism, blogs, anything - on contemporary western sources are welcome, too (compare this one from the NYT).
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane to Society & Culture (6 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Polynesian wayfinders (traditional non-instrument navigators) sleep very little while they are navigating, mostly in short catnaps. I guess this is more "non-circadian" than anything, since their sleep patterns sound quite irregular.
posted by Quietgal at 6:42 PM on January 13, 2008

Best answer: The fun googly term for this is chronobiology. I've always been really into the stories of the people who lived underground for long stretches on time with no time cues to see what would happen to them. Some people who have done the cave thing

- nathaniel kleitman and bruce richardson who did an early cave/sleep study
- Michel Siffre - two months in a cave
- this metafilter thread and this metafiter thread

The cave stuff is less necessary now that labs can be set up to better approximate "forced synchronization"

I had a friend who worked as a train engineer in Tennessee in the US. His schedule was crazy in that he was on call round the clock and basically had to sleep after a certain number of hours on the road no matter what time of day it was. Apparently someone did a dissertation about this sort of lifestyle. This is a funny little infographic about the circadian rhythms of reindeer above the arcitc circle. And even though there is no Snarkanai there are many Masai who work at night watchmen, but for a different reason.

Here are a few more journally/academicky things

- "Greek adults delay sleep onset at night and awaken early in the morning. Among this small group, naps are an accepted cultural behavior."
- "Other cultures Worthman has studied do not impose fixed bedtimes and routinely sleep in groups. Besides napping during the day, individuals may wake at random during the night to chat or sing."

I recall seeing in one of James Burke's Connections episodes that before houses really had indoor heating, the whole idea of sleeping all night long was sort of wacky. You'd need to get up to basically get or stay warm and so there was more round-the-clock eating and people would often get up in the middle of the night to pace and/or work and/or stoke a poorly insulated fire. Can't find a good online reference for that though.
posted by jessamyn at 6:42 PM on January 13, 2008 [3 favorites]

I asked a related question once.
posted by daksya at 9:45 PM on January 13, 2008

Also, drop in a comment with your question at A Blog Around The Clock, which is focused on chronobiology.
posted by daksya at 9:50 PM on January 13, 2008

Response by poster: Awesome, jessamyn! That's a heap of interesting stuff.

daksya, I really liked Circadiana (as it was called) before it moved to Scienceblogs, where it has strayed from it's subject matter somewhat in my opinion.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 9:23 AM on January 15, 2008

Maybe so, but the author should be able to help you out nonetheless, if you ask him.
posted by daksya at 1:09 AM on January 16, 2008

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