Late to bed and early to rise?

by Tabitha Kidwell

I just got off a one-hour bus ride with the most horn-happy driver I’ve ever had. If it had been longer than an hour, I would have gotten off and waited for the next bus to come along. Every time he laid into the horn, I craned my neck to see what was going on, and it seemed to be nothing more than the usual flow of traffic, albeit at evening rush hour. After one particular 30-second long bleat, I looked around for someone to share in my frustration… and everyone was asleep.

This is one of many examples of how much Indonesian people’s sleep patterns baffle me. They seem to be able to sleep anywhere. I’m usually the only one awake on plane flights. I saw a woman asleep on the back of a motorbike once. Students sleep in their campus activity offices while their friends are literally shouting all around them. I don’t get it.

Though I guess I should: it’s evidence of systematic, chronic sleep deprivation. People just don’t seem to care about sleep here – it’s just not a cultural value. If an American got less than 4 hours of sleep, most of us would be droopy-eyed and cranky, drinking coffee and complaining about what a rough night it was. Here, people get that much sleep routinely and just go about their daily business. Part of the issue is Muslim prayers – they are expected to pray 5 times daily: before sunrise, around noon, 3, 6, and before they go to bed. So, getting up before sunrise is non-negotiable. I get that, and I think waking up early to pray would be a great way to start the day. I actually have started doing so. The mosques play the call to prayer at like 4:30, and it starts to wake me up before my alarm rings at the slovenly hour of 5 AM. Everyone is up then, even if they are not Muslim – it is just the time to start the day. Some extracurricular classes and meetings at Muslim schools even happen at 5 AM – can you imagine anything happening at 5 AM in America?

So, when people were telling me about their daily schedules when I first arrived, I thought for sure they would say that they went to be at, like, 9 PM to compensate for waking up at 4:30, but they say they go to bed at 11, midnight, or even later. I was always flabbergasted and asked if they napped. Some said they did, sometimes, but no one seemed to think that 4-5 hours of sleep every night was any kind of problem. I just don’t think they, as a society, have been taught to care about sleeping. When I am going to bed at 10 on a Saturday night (yes my life is very exciting), I look out my window and see whole families walking around the neighborhood, with babies and kids of all ages. There is no concept of “bedtime” forced upon children, so maybe they just don’t ever think about it.

This makes me wonder, do Americans only “need” 8 hours of seep because we have been told that we need 8 hours of sleep? If we didn’t believe that, could we run on 4 hours, no problem? Maybe, but I’m not going to try to prove it. It’s 9 PM and I’m going to bed!

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