A team of researchers led by Dr Christoph Nissen of the University Medical Centre, Freiburg, have been studying sleeping patterns in a Stone Age-style environment. Five volunteers spent two months in a settlement in southern Germany, living in huts, gathering their own food, and sleeping on brushwood and furs. They had no electricity, phones, running water, torches or candles. According to data collected from their sleep-tracking armbands, the participants slept an average of 1.8 hours more each night than they ordinarily would have done. According to Nissen and his team, whose findings have now been published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, these observations provide "evidence for the long-held belief that the absence of modern living conditions is associated with an earlier sleep phase and prolonged sleep duration."
A piece from the Guardian in which Tim Dowling reflects ruefully on times when he has been caught napping.
Al Jazeera has just published a striking collection of photographs of the current war in Gaza - all scenes of Israeli soldiers and displaced Palestinians sleeping when and where they can.
Volunteers on British Airways Dreamliner flights from Heathrow to New York were recently among the first to try out a hi-tech blanket woven with fibre optics which uses neuro-sensors to measure a person's brainwaves and changes colour to show when they are relaxed and meditative. BA plan to use the so called "happiness blanket" to investigate how passengers' sleep and well-being is affected by all aspects of the onboard environment, such as light in the cabin, the timing of meals, different forms of in-flight entertainment, and adjustments in seat positions. It is difficult to watch the promotional video in which BA reports these innovations without being reminded of the rather different attitude to airborne sleep exhibited by the Ryanair CEO, Michael O'Leary (see our post here), who once said, half-jokingly, that if passengers fall asleep on his flights "we wake them up to sell them things". Happiness blankets, it seems fair to assume, are not going to be available on Ryanair flights anytime soon. But perhaps we should admire or at least respect O'Leary's honesty in this regard; after all, he is in business to make money. It's possible that BA are missing a trick in letting their passengers huddle in happiness blankets when they could be awake and purchasing scratch-cards and sandwiches. Why close off a potentially lucrative source of revenue by letting passengers nod off? One way of answering these questions would be to recognise that, in the narrative of the happiness blanket, with its comforting fantasy of deep and relaxing slumber at 30,000 feet, BA has found a way to sell not scratch-cards or sandwiches but sleep itself to a host of prospective passengers.
Earlier this year we posted on celebrities who have nodded off in public. This week an unsuspecting member of the public has become become something of a cause celebre precisely because he has fallen asleep under the watchful eye of the TV cameras. Andrew Rector, a New York Yankees fan, was singled out for some wry remarks by the ESPN commentary team when the camera caught him napping in his seat during the 4th inning of the Yankees/Red Sox game on April 13. Rector has now filed a $10 million defamation suit against the team, the network, and the ESPN commentators Dan Shulman and John Kruk for their "avalanche of disparaging words." At the time of writing, the YouTube clip of Rector's snooze has attracted some 750,000 views (though it seems only likely that the lawsuit and attendant publicity will boost this number into the millions). The comments thread that accompanies the clip makes for instructive reading. On the one hand, there is an all-too-predictable avalanche of disparaging and abusive comments about Rector's behaviour and appearance, a gleefully heartless discourse in which the public sleeper is deemed to be fair game for public ridicule. On the other, there is a much more sympathetic thread of speculation about whether Rector may be suffering from some form of sleep-related illness, such as narcolepsy or sleep apnea. Whatever the truth of these amateur diagnoses, they do risk giving the impression that public sleep is a seriously eccentric behaviour, excusable only if it can be explained as a symptom of a medical disorder. A more thought-provoking perspective on this somnolent Yankees fan is offered by those online commentators who pathologize not the sleeper but the context in which he sleeps: according to several YouTube wags, Rector's sleep is the appropriate and indeed inevitable response to a sport as soporific as baseball.
We recently reported on the use of spikes and other forms of anti-homeless architecture that are designed to make public space uninhabitable by rough sleepers. A Canadian housing charity has bucked this trend by creating a series of 'shelter-benches' around Vancouver that are expressly designed both to accommodate rough sleepers and to raise awareness of the issue of homelessness.