Monday, April 17, 2017

Getting Enough Sleep

The original story was in the New York Times Magazine but many other outlets picked it up and commented as well.  Sleep is the new status symbol.  If you get 7 or more hours of sleep per night you are the envy of the neighborhood (or the office).

There was a time, not too long ago, when bragging rights went to those with more endurance, the marathon runners of staying awake.  If someone needed only 4 or 5 hours (or less) a night, we were sure to hear about it.  It put him or her in a league with many people famous, in part, for their admirable work ethic.  The list includes Thomas Edison, Nicola Tesla, Buckminster Fuller and Leonardo Da Vinci. If someone achieves stardom but needs a normal amount of sleep, we never hear about it.  The rich and famous who got by on much less had it listed with other credentials of superiority.

Now driven by promotion of a supposedly new, cool image, we are being sold a wide variety of sleep solutions that are expected to fly off the shelves.  The researchers are investigating a broad spectrum of ideas and devices including: a machine for bedroom air quality measurement, recordings of Icelandic fairy tales, specialty hammocks, weighted blankets, lavender oil and a headband that uses sound waves to induce sleep.  Another inventor came up with “a gadget you wear on your finger that uses sound to startle you awake every three minutes for an hour.”  The theory is that it gets all disruptions out of the way allowing you to fall asleep.   He also markets “a pair of goggles fitted with tiny green-blue lights that shine back into your eyes, [which] aims to reset your body’s clock.”  This is becoming big business.  “Sleep entrepreneurs from Silicon Valley and beyond have poured into the sleep space, as branders like to say -- a $32 billion market in 2012 -- formerly inhabited by old-style mattress and pharmaceutical companies.”  (I guess if they can sell us water that falls from the sky, they can sell us sleep, too.)

While the purpose of sleep may not be totally clear, the benefits of getting enough sleep and the dangers of getting too little are well known and broadly publicized.  The website lists many benefits.  Getting enough sleep is among the big, common sense lifestyle recommendations on such websites as Mayo Clinic, WebMD and many others – along with healthy eating, not smoking, not drinking to excess and exercise.  In his book about addiction Irresistible, Adam Alter lists the following as symptoms of sleep deprivation:  heart disease, lung disease, kidney disease, appetite suppression, poor weight control, weakened immune functioning, lower resistance to disease, higher pain sensitivity, slow reaction times, mood fluctuation, depressed brain functioning, depression, obesity, diabetes and certain forms of cancer. (p. 68).  The annual loss to businesses in the US attributed to sleep-deprived employees is estimated at $411 billion.

We know all the truth of this and usually feel it the next day but pay no attention to the advice.  One source estimates the problem at thirty percent of the population.  In 2017 does it take hype, gadgets and gimmicks to get Americans doing what they have known all along they really should be doing?  That doesn’t paint a very encouraging picture of our society and its future.  It used to be simple.  Our cave-dwelling ancestors could fall asleep without an app or a sleep coach even as they faced more threatening daily perils; why can’t we?

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