Monday, November 26, 2007

52 Weeks Down - Week 28 - Get Some Sleep

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.




Ailsa said...

We used to have our thermostat set at 50 for nights and 60 for days, with nights starting at 10 PM. Since Daylight Savings ended, we've been getting to bed a lot earlier though, so Saturday night I switched it so that night now begins at 8 PM. Most nights everyone but me is asleep by 9 now (I like to stay up and read and enjoy the quiet for a bit, as it's the only time I have the house to myself).

Marnie said...

This all is very true. We turn the lights down/off at night and our daughter (now 3) goes to sleep easily , and has for some time. My own sleep misadventure is documented at


I posted it to remind me what never to do again as far as sleep goes.
It seems to be a little thing, but it's the foundation of our lives.
Thanks for the reminder!

Anonymous said...

Our great state of Indiana recently moved from Central to Eastern Time Zone so that the financial movers and shakers can more easily live in synch with the rhythms of the East Coast, even though this means living further out of synch with nature for the rest of us.
-Brian M

David said...

Hi Sharon:

My partner & I quit the hi-paying world in the USA and delocated to rural Canada. Part of that transition has been WAY more spare time, WAY more sleep, WAY more time for cooking and generally hanging out & thinking... I could go on. Lord knows I got the time for it. :-)

I consider us to be incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to do this -- I don't chalk it up to much virtue on our part, but mainly the freedom of choice that comes with education, a reasonably affluent early start, parents that instilled good work habits, and other 'nurture' bonuses (not 'nature').

I still get pangs of feeling that I'm not doing enough, should be working harder, working more hours, and so on. The commitment to do less on all dimensions -- except hopefully those which benefit the community we're trying to build around us -- needs constant re-stoking, I have found. The background noise of more-faster-bigger is loud and hard to duck out from under.

As you know. :-)


David said...

... synchronicity...

homebrewlibrarian said...

I've been only keeping one light on in the house at a time, usually the kitchen since it will throw light into the other areas I may need to visit briefly. Oh and I'm in Alaska where the sun doesn't come up until nearly 10 am and sets by about 4:30. There's a lot of dark going on and we'll have more before the earth starts tilting the other direction.

What I've found is that I am ready for bed anytime after 8:30 pm and even if I go to bed around 10, I'm able to rise and be wakeful at 5:30 without huge infusions of caffeine. It's been interesting riding the bus early in the morning - I'm the only one who isn't dozing off! All I can think of is that I'm keeping the lights down in my house in the evening.

In a related fashion, I was talking with a young man who moved to Alaska about six months ago. He got to experience the overwhelming abundance of summer daylight and told me he could work long days and party almost all night and be bright and cheerful with only four hours of sleep. Now he was complaining that all he wants to do now is sleep until the sun comes up and hit the sack about 5pm. I told them that was exactly what he should be doing but he looked at me like I had grown two heads. "But I have to WORK in the morning and this really sucks!" Poor baby. I told him it takes an entire year for the body to get accustomed to the light cycles. He'll be okay but he sure is looking forward to next summer.


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