Sleep like a monk: unusual sleep experiences

January 21, 2021 3 mins read
Sleep like a monk: unusual sleep experiences

Where’s the most unusual place you’ve ever fallen asleep? Whether it’s dozing off at your desk or waiting in line at the grocery store (it happens, we don’t judge), there are some truly bizarre sleep situations out there. Let’s explore how astronauts get galactic shut-eye; how monks snooze upright and what it’s like to catch some sub-zero z’s in Antarctica.

Sleeping in space

Imagine floating around all-day in zero gravity and when it’s time to snooze, you have to strap yourself into bed. That’s exactly what happens to astronauts when they turn in after a day of work.

According to NASA, astronauts sleep in one-person cabins. Because they are weightless, they can sleep in any orientation (even upside down). They don’t need pillows, and their arms float out in front of them, making them look like zombies.

As to their quality of sleep, NASA explains that different things such as excitement or motion sickness can disrupt an astronaut’s sleep pattern. Dreams, nightmares and snoring are all common sleep occurrences for astronauts. The lights also stay on all night and there’s a constant sound of machinery in the background. Despite all this, astronauts are still able to get some z’s.

Sleeping upright like a monk

To the east of Lockerbie in Scotland, lies Kagyu Same Ling, the largest Buddhist monastery in the west. Here, monks sleep for up to 5 hours in an upright position. They’ve mastered this art of slumber (which sounds impossible for the average human) to reduce the need for sleep – and use this time to do more important things, like meditate.

This is how they do it:

They go to bed at 11pm and wake up at 3:45am. Once up, the monks must meditate and pray for the whole day. Their schedule might seem gruelling, but the aim is to reduce the time spent in rapid eye movement sleep (REM) which is a deeper phase and where dreams happen. Because you lose muscle tone in REM sleep, your body would slouch if you sat upright. It’s also the phase of sleep where temporary paralysis sets in so you don’t act out your dreams or sleepwalk.

While monks are committed to sleeping only 4-5 hours, sleep specialists don’t recommend this at all. The body requires 7-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep every day to stave off a weak immune system, fatigue and even depression. Sleep refreshes the body by regenerating cells and strengthening the brain through rest so that it can function optimally the next day.

Sleeping in Antarctica

According to, sleeping in Antarctica is no small feat. For one, Antarctica has strange seasons, as the sun stops setting from late October to mid-February. It goes completely dark during the Antarctic winter from late April to mid-August. These type of seasonal changes can disturb your sleep-wake routines as your body doesn’t know when to release the sleep hormone melatonin (which signals the body to prepare for sleep).

Sleeping in Antarctica can also be physically uncomfortable. Like an extreme sport, a night spent in Antarctica requires layers of protective and warm clothing. Think triple pairs of socks, insulated track pants, gloves, body warmers and sweaters. And that’s before you’ve even slipped into your sleeping bag, which is covered by bivy sacks (which help create a shield against the winds and cold ice).

These unusual sleeping experiences prove that no matter where you are, the body’s ability to shut down and begin the restorative benefits of sleep is testament to how powerful and necessary it is for the body and brain.