Sleeping and Anatomy

Discussions unearthing human history including cultural anthropology, linguistics, etc.

Sleeping and Anatomy

Postby zetreque on March 19th, 2014, 3:03 pm 

I copied this (my post) over from another forum.

We spend, what? one third or our lives sleeping?

I often wonder what anatomical differences there might be in ancient hominoids, and how they slept. We have such soft beds these days, maybe that would make a great essay for the assignment on here about how we will evolve in the future with soft beds.

I have read many people online who claim to sleep on the floor and hard surfaces because they sleep so much better without back pains.

What do you think is the anatomically different in ancient hominoids due to sleeping in different conditions?\


Michael
There was a story about Neandertal's beds being made from grass and other softer materials in the Esquilleu Cave in Cantabria, Spain... but these beds were also used as kinder for hearths, and were generally multifunctional:

http://news.discovery.com/history/archa ... -house.htm

I'm not sure I would agree that "hard surfaces" are going to be the best or particularly comfortable, or even likely locations for sleeping spots...though I think hominins were perhaps very adaptable in chosing sleep locations - perhaps it was likely that there were a larger variety of "sleep" locations that would suffice for ancient hominins. Although what an "ideal" spot may be is perhaps still up for debate.


Brianna
Perhaps we have always had 'soft' beds, at least softer than sleeping on the ground. If you look at orangutans they make sleeping nests at night to sleep in. I believe gorillas also make nests out of leaves and other materials to sleep in. So perhaps we also engaged in constructing a 'nest' out of grasses and leaves to help insulate from weather events.


Mike
The Khoi-san I met in southern Africa many years ago used to make beds out of grasses, and then burn them every few weeks to get rid of the bugs. Also they had sleeping mats made out of woven reeds, like the Xhosa and Zulus, which sometimes they would just put directly on the earth and sleep on that. There is said to be evidence at the Diepkloof cave site in South Africa of grasses being used for beds up to 60kya, but I can't find a Google reference.

I was thinking of this last night, at an open-air music event, sitting/lying on a blanket on the grass and how uncomfortable even that got after a few hours … and remembered how the Khoisan would sit comfortably on their haunches for any amount of time. We've lost the ability to do this in a world of chairs - possibly to our massive detriment according this sensational story: http://tinyurl.com/bupgmcj

Here's a pic I took many years ago of a group of Khoi-san in South Africa sitting around comfortably:

https://coursera-forum-screenshots.s3.amazonaws.com/bf/da63b0a27911e3a02a8101f109d932/khoisan.jpg


Brianna
Thanks for the interesting insight, and photo. The link you provided was also very interesting to think about how we have changed so much culturally even when it comes to our sitting practices.

Tracilyn
This is quite interesting. I wondered too if there was a connection between sleeping on the ground and the skeletal makeup of humans and early hominids. Like everyone else said, grass was used as a "bed" and as far as keeping warm or sheltered from rain, hm.... Also, great share Mike! :]
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Re: Sleeping and Anatomy

Postby zetreque on March 19th, 2014, 3:13 pm 

We spent a LOT of time evolving without beds or chairs. We performed tasks of stone tool making for thousands of years.

I would think there is something in our anatomy that deals with this situation.

If you got back, leg, joint, or any other kind of pain/problems from doing these tasks, it would really hinder your survival.
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Re: Sleeping and Anatomy

Postby BioWizard on March 19th, 2014, 4:46 pm 

Maybe we are losing some of our physical robustness, but that's likely due to the fact that current times don't demand much of it. I find it hard to believe that our ancestors slept on the ground, or that it's somehow better for us, when even our distant primate cousins elect to sleep on relatively softer beds. I don't understand, from a mechanical perspective, how the floor can make for a comfortable night's sleep. You need some amount of "give" to avoid stressing joints and tendons too much.

As for sofas shaving years off your lifespan, that has more to do with its effect on your level of activity. Nothing is inherently bad about sitting or being comfortable. Make a habit of getting out of your seat often and maintain a level of daily activity and exercise and you should be fine.
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Re: Sleeping and Anatomy

Postby Paralith on March 19th, 2014, 5:02 pm 

Something to keep in mind is that some aspects of our anatomy are very responsive to the environment we experience during development. The pinkie toe of people born and raised in societies that always wear shoes is often quite smaller and weaker than the pinkie toe of people living traditional lifestyles that don't wear padded shoes. This is not because of a consistent genetic difference, but because putting less stress on the pinkie toe while it's growing causes it to turn out smaller in the end. I suspect something very much like this may be going on with people in modern societies whose bodies, during all stages of growth, were always carefully cushioned during sleep.

Chimpanzees do in fact make nests to sleep in every night. But these are not thick mats of leaves; they are several branches bent over and roughly intertwined to form something of a bowl shape. These branches do have leaves on them that probably provide some padding, but basically the chimps are sleeping in baskets made of hard branches. I actually have a friend who studies wild chimps who climbed up into a chimp nest one morning after it had been abandoned. She said it was pretty darn uncomfortable, with one especially big hard branch right down the middle of it.

Though in an interesting contrast, chimps in zoos often make nests when given materials for it. Between the mulch floor of their enclosure, some really fluffy material called woodwool, and multiple burlap blankets, some of their nests do look pretty cushiony. This could mean that, given the opportunity, any chimp would make a softer nest if they were able. Or it could mean that these captive born and raised chimps are not unlike us modern humans with constant access to soft materials to sleep on all our lives. Though these captive chimps will also sleep quite often on plain concrete, as well.
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Re: Sleeping and Anatomy

Postby zetreque on March 19th, 2014, 5:05 pm 

What I had in mind wasn't anything major.

For example: Some animals have more "padding" around the parts that contact the ground for when they sleep (camels?). Sleeping, and laying on the ground seems uncomfortable whatever species you are.

What I kind of had going on in my mind might be slight changes in the pelvis structure over time, or something.

In the above picture of the Khoi-san, the author of that post claims they could be like that for hours on end. I remember when I was little sitting around like that for assemblies at school and see how long it took for my legs to go numb. Perhaps the pathways our blood vessels take is different in modern humans.
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Re: Sleeping and Anatomy

Postby Paralith on March 20th, 2014, 11:13 pm 

I don't know - changes in blood vessel pathways sounds pretty major to me.

Hunter gatherers living a traditional lifestyle tend to have lower average body mass and body fat percentages than your average industrialized westerner. Simply having fewer pounds to hold up, that much less mass weighing down on your supporting structures, might account for a lot of the difference in how much longer you can sit on a hard floor. An animal as massive as a horse can die from simply laying on the ground for too long - the stress of all the weight on their organs for too long is simply more than they can handle. It might be interesting to look more closely at the sleeping and resting behaviors of a more massive ape like a gorilla or orang, to see what evolutionary changes might occur in response to a primate having to support more weight.
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