19 December 2019 | NEWS

On the inuit side

Back the new

As our pace of life accelerates and our nights shorten, our anguish at the prospect of a sleepless night remains a cultural constant. While in the West, the room and sleeping comfort are important, they do not arouse the same interest among the Inuit at all.


In the West, it is easy for us to give in to the call of sleep, while for the Inuit of high latitudes, not sleeping at night is a great pleasure. Hard to imagine? In many countries, the alternation between waking and sleeping periods is linked to the alternation between day and night. However, this is not the case beyond the Arctic Circle, which must deal with an alternation of darkness and light. This raises questions about the very notion of "night" in this part of the world. A number of activities have always been associated with night time, including fishing and hunting; those who hunt caribou can spend several days running without rest. When they return, they will sleep 16 to 18 hours at a time if necessary, regardless of the time of day or night.

Inuit sleep is not ritualized and is not highly valued. So they can sleep anywhere, sitting on an uncomfortable couch if that's where they feel tired. Children sleep when and where they want without arousing parental anxiety. In addition, the sleep experience is collective and fragmented: we like sleeping together, and if someone comes in, eats and goes out, the others wake up, eat and go out together before going back to bed.

Ethnologist Guy Bordin, at a conference given as part of the Rendez-vous du Muséum with the Permanent University of Paris, underlines the idea of going to sleep only if there is nothing else interesting to do: "Everything is good not to sleep: hunting, fishing, dancing, being together. Among the Inuit, we will only sleep early at night if we have something important to do the next morning. »

Here or in more remote areas of the world, our way of sleeping reveals our adaptability to the environment that surrounds us.

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