Sleep Budgets in a Globalizing World

Biocultural Interactions Influence Sleep Sufficiency Among Egyptian Families

Published In: Social Science and Medicine, v. 79, no. 2, Feb. 2013, p. 31-39

Posted on RAND.org on February 01, 2013

by Carol M Worthman, Ryan Andrew Brown

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Declines in self-reported sleep quotas with globalizing lifestyle changes have focused attention on their possible role in rising global health problems such as obesity or depression. Cultural factors that act across the life course and support sleep sufficiency have received scant attention, nor have the potential interactions of cultural and biological factors in age-related changes in sleep behavior been systematically investigated. This study examines the effects of cultural norms for napping and sleeping arrangements along with sleep schedules, age, and gender on sleep budgets among Egyptian households. Data were collected in 2000 from 16 households with 78 members aged 3–56 years at two sites in Egypt (Cairo and an agrarian village). Each participant provided one week of continuous activity records and details of each sleep event. Records showed that nighttime sleep onsets were late and highly variable. Napping was common and, along with wake time flexibility, played a key role in maintaining sleep sufficiency throughout the life course into later middle age. Cosleeping was prevalent and exhibited contrasting associations with reduced duration and sufficiency of both nocturnal and total sleep, and with earlier, more regular, and less disrupted sleep. Daily sleep quotas met published guidelines and showed age-related changes similar to existing reports, but differed in how they were achieved. Cultural norms organizing sleep practices by age and gender appear to tap their intrinsic biological properties as well. Moreover, flexibility in how sleep was achieved contributed to sleep sufficiency. The findings suggest how biocultural dynamics can play key roles in sleep patterns that sustain favorable sleep quotas from infancy onwards in populations pursuing globalizing contemporary lifestyles.

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