Note: Short one today - I'm in the final push to get the book finished, and a bit under the gun. But, I think, an important one.
Americans carry enormous sleep debt - if you put the average American in an extended sleep study, exposed to natural light and allowed to sleep as much as their bodies demand, they will sleep 14 hours a day for the better part of a month, until they catch up and naturally begin to average out around 8 hours. We spend a lot of our lives ignoring our natural sleep patterns, and at some real cost to ourselves. 10,000 car accidents a year occur as a result of sleep deprivation. Sleep deprivation is associated with depression, anxiety and the development of hypoglycemia and even diabetes. Because of sleep deprivation, we consume enormous quantities of caffeine, with negative effects on the gestation of our children, our blood pressure and our ability to sleep...which causes us to spend almost a billion dollars each year on medical sleep aids which in turn...
And the solution to most sleep related medical problems is simple. Turn off the artificial lights. Go to bed at the same time each night. Get as much rest as you really need. Now for some of us, this isn't realistic. There are people who have to work nights. New parents are probably never going to get as much sleep as they'd like. There are some people whose bodies really do seem to be implacably on a late night cycle. But most of us aren't - sleep studies show that even "night owls" when exposed to enough natural light and darkness tend to move their cycles back towards everyone else's.
Now if we were to obey that advice, what would the environmental consequences be? What would they be, for example, if pretty much everyone in the US turned off their lights at 10 pm and actually went to sleep for 8 or 9 hours? If they turned down their heat, flicked off the power strips and otherwise simply did what their bodies were telling them. What if we didn't stop at Starbucks every morning, and unplugged the coffee pot?
These are small things, of course, but they are significant. And think about what kind of *people* we'd be if we were getting enough rest. We'd be less grumpy with each other, maybe a little better at making community. We'd be better able to face the physical burdens of a human powered economy. We'd be less prone to illness, saving ourselves and our country a great deal of money. We'd be better able to face change - tired, grumpy, overwhelmed people never look on difference as a good idea. Would it change the world? Probably not. Would it save energy and improve our lives in a host of ways? Absolutely.
Naps are good too, but that's another post.