It seems like eons ago in Internet years, but back in 2007, I was doing a lot of reading about polyphasic sleep. The tl;dr is that instead of monophasic sleep, which is sleeping for one long, (hopefully) uninterrupted period at night (or even for a slightly shorter period balanced out with a nap in the afternoon -- biphasic sleep), you sleep for a short block of time at night and then take multiple short naps throughout the day.
Basically, I hate sleeping. I have so much stuff to do and never enough time in which to do it, so anything that gives me more waking hours a day -- well, I'll at least Google it.
Ultimately, I decided polyphasic sleep was too potentially dangerous and impractical given my work schedule. I won't lie -- the second had more to do with my decision than the first. I've never been a very good sleeper anyway and I guess I'm just used to it.
But I'm still fascinated by the science of sleep. Which is a pretty easy fascination to feed, what with the steady stream of people talking about sleep. I mean, by now we all know you can't catch up on sleep debt (which, um, didn't we know that in the 80s and then again in the 90s? I feel like we've heard that before) and using electronic devices before bed disrupts your sleep.
I tried those whispering videos, by the way. TOTALLY relaxing. But they didn't make me sleep.
Now, once again (it's not like we don't know this, amirite?) the focus is on how important it is to get enough sleep. Arianna Huffington is at the forefront of this particular reminder to get your ZZZZs on -- she passed out from exhaustion, broke her face and (as the Daily Mail puts it) has become evangelical about the need for sleep, going so far as to provide beds for her employees to nap.
Man, I read stories about employers who do that sort of thing and my first thought is actually to wonder how much time employees are expected to devote to work. (Yeah, the Google campus sounds amazing but I like to go home sometimes, you know?)
And but so, we should all get more sleep. My problem with this sort of story is that, yeah, we probably should. But how do we do that?
How does the single parent working two jobs and raising kids work one hour of sleep in for every two they are awake? How does anyone who is barely making ends meet manage all the sleep they're supposed to be getting? Especially when, as a culture, we already have this narrative that poor people are lazy.
How does anyone who wants to get anything done outside of the house manage that? Yeah, yeah, if we're awake for 16 hours, we should be getting 8 hours of sleep. That doesn't sound like much until you break it down -- my work day is 9 hours (8 working hours and an hour for lunch) and I need another half hour to a full hour for commuting. That leaves me with 6 hours, give or take, to do everything from getting ready for work to grocery shopping to hanging out with friends. I work late fairly often, too -- when my work day is 12 hours long, am I supposed to give up hanging out with the friend I rarely see or do I forego the sleep?
Maybe this is a symptom of us thinking we can have it all, achieve some sort of work/life balance. I keep coming back to this work/life integration idea -- where sometimes you focus more on work and sometimes more on other things in your life and employers are actually understanding of that as long as the work gets done. But since that sounds like a magical fairyland, I'm not holding my breath.
Lack of sleep has been linked to everything from depression to fatness -- which does indeed raise the idea that maybe I'm fat because I never get any sleep. I kid, I kid. (I don't actually have much care for why I'm fat.) But the confusing welter of causality does in some way make me question why, if we all know sleep is so good for us, our culture is set up to reward the folks who seem to do as little of it as possible.
(My theories are all linked to capitalism.)
A lot of people -- and I can't exclude myself from this -- seem to be looking for meaningful ways we can opt out of the mainstream system. But in some ways, the variable of time remains the unchangable constant -- value determined by our own personal equations, balancing work and obligations and family and our attempts to have some semblance of a life outside the machine. I'd love to say we should all protest, just by taking a nap.
But I don't even know how to do that, really. Because that's another thing these stories always fail to address. No matter how many quick and easy tips there are to follow, I sometimes, most times, simply cannot sleep.