Sleeping Behaviors


Sleeping arrangements are influenced by culture. The most prominent sleeping arrangement studied is parent-child co-sleeping. An anthropologist named John Whiting evaluated 136 societies  in which he drew an outline of four different types of sleeping arrangements that he would observe. Throughout his study he discovered that the most popular sleeping arrangement was the mother and child sleeping together with the father somewhere else. This mostly occurred in polygamous societies. Another anthropologist, Gilda Morelli, studied the co-sleeping patterns in North America compared to the Mayan Culture due to the finding that Industrialized societies began to influence private sleeping patterns. Babies in all cultures do some kind of co-sleeping throughout the night. Although, in America babies are forced into their own bed at earlier ages than other cultures. Other cultures, in this case the Mayans, were informed of American children’s sleeping locations and felt sorry for the children being alone.  A huge reason for co-sleeping found in Morelli’s fieldwork was feeding at night. The Mayan babies were able to breast feed during the night while the mothers were still asleep. On the other hand the American parents had to stay  awake for nighttime feeding rituals. These were two accounts of fieldwork performed by Anthropologists to study sleeping rituals within different societies based on cultural differences.

Culture is the main reason we sleep with the people we do. Sleeping arrangements are passed down from generation to generation and it is the last tradition to be changed according to the article, Sleep With Me: A Trans-Cultural Look at the Power and Protection of Sharing a Bed. Babies sleeping with mothers is due to the evolutionary term of natural selection. This practice was used to increase the survival of infants and this is why babies are still sleeping with mothers today. Although babies sleep for some time with their mothers in every culture, each culture has adapted to their own customs for sleeping overtime.


2 thoughts on “Sleeping Behaviors

  1. First off, great topic selection: sleep and sleep disorders have long been interests of mine. Second, you provide a nice brief overview of two perspectives of parent and child co-sleeping; that of Americans and of Mayans. I am, however, left wondering whether or not this in itself solves any ‘real-world problems.’ I agree that sleeping arrangements are largely cultural creations, but I am not sure that any one arrangement is definitively “better” than another. Since they do depend on culture, each has its own internal logic to it. In the United States, for example, SIDS in infants has been a concern for new parents for decades. Since this was quite poorly understood, any possible preventative measures (e.g., such as the elimination of co-sleeping or discontinuation of alcohol by co-sleeping parents [and especially fathers]) were recommended by those practicing medicine and were quickly adopted by new parents across the country. In this case, parents were not aiming to be ‘cold’ toward their children, but rather were trying to protect them — in other words, ceasing co-sleeping was seen as a means to increase chances of survival! A number of substitutes to co-sleeping exist today to protect against SIDS. On the other hand, some cultures, such as in the east for example, may desire co-dependance within families as a general rule. This may result in increased incidence of co-sleeping, irrespective of risks or the feeding preferences of newborns.

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