In the Future, let’s all get caught napping
Recently there have been a number of articles in the MSM about sleep. They all basically take the general point of view that Americans are ‘sleep deprived’, that we all need 8 hours of sleep but aren’t getting it and that this sleep deprivation takes its’ toll across all aspects of society.
Many of these articles have suggested reasons for this growing sleep deprivation. They mention that in this age of ever increasing connectedness we always have another call to make, another email to write, another web site to visit, that we are addicted to our connectedness. They usually profile some poor soul who is addicted to his Blackberry with numbed thumbs, or some road warrior who crosses time zones so often she falls asleep at strange times.
The prevailing wisdom about sleep is that we all need 8 hours of sleep. We heard this from our mothers. We read about getting a ‘good eight hours of sleep’ and that we spend a ‘third of our time sleeping’. It is a rare night that I get 8 hours of sleep. When I ask people how much sleep they get a night, I rarely hear “8 hours”. More often than not I get the answer “six hours, maybe six and a half” or the “I only need four or five hours sleep” usually said with chest thumping braggadocio. So, few of us are getting what we are supposed to get in terms of sleep at night. No wonder Starbucks is thriving and Red Bull has spawned dozens of imitators.
Some recent articles profile various new businesses that have jumped into the economic space of ‘sleep deprivation’. There is the mention of Big Pharma’s selling hundreds of millions of sleeping pills. There are noise reduction ear phones, blind folds for the eyes, and white noise machines. There was an article recently about a company that rents out nap pods for 20 minute intervals to bleary-eyed New Yorkers. Nap pods, now that got me to thinking about sleep through the ages.
I am a huge fan of Alvin Toffler. His wave theory of history is the most profound analysis of human history I have encountered, and it has basically altered the way we and certainly I look at the history of humanity today. Basically Toffler defined modern human history as waves. After living as hunters and gatherers for 150,000 years, we entered the Agricultural Age around 10,000 years ago. This was the First Wave. Then around 300 years ago we entered the Industrial Age, which was the Second Wave. During the later part of the last century, we entered the Information Age, which is the third and current Wave. Each wave has gotten shorter in duration. The speed of change has accelerated.
In the Agricultural Age, economic activity was centered on the farm, which was worked during the day to produce the crops. In the Industrial Age, economic activity was centered on the factory, where goods were produced during the day ( at least until artificial illumination allowed for double shifts). Work during the day, sleep during the night.
Today we are just 200 years removed from an America that was largely agricultural. Most people lived on or near farms and the rhythm of life was tied to the rhythm of nature. Time was measured by seasons and by days. Spring was the planting season, summer was the growing season and fall was the harvest season. Farmers got up at dawn, worked during the day, and then went to bed after dark. At night there were candles. With everything focused on day time work, people slept more hours at night. That was the source of the ‘work day’. There wasn’t work to do at night. There also was a limited amount of recreation that one could do to candle light.
In cultures located closer to the equator, the cultural history was to not work in the middle of the day as it was too hot. That is when people stayed out of the sun and took naps. They shaped their sleep habits around nature, but with a different structure.
So, today in 2006, America and it’s economic institutions still functions largely on social and time structures that were set up during the Agricultural Age. Work during daylight, sleep when it is dark outside. We have off-shored much of our Industrial Age production, and are now working in the ‘always on’ environment of the Information Age. We are now working longer hours than at any time in the last centuryâ€¦ because we can. Up at 5a to do email until the kids get up, send emails and make phone calls while in some form of transport during the day, do Internet research after dinner, have conference calls at 11p with India or China. No wonder we doze off in meetings, fall asleep during the commute, lose our temper with our co-workers and kids.
It is time to update our sleep habits from the Agricultural Age to the Information Age. We must embrace naps! Napping is a good thing. It is good for productivity, for safety, for polite social interaction, and most importantly for health and happiness. We need to create a culture and a work place that supports the taking of a short nap. We need to create a social environment where it is a smart thing to take a nap. We need to redefine values so that napping is part of the profile of high output, highly productive individuals not lazy ones.
During the next twenty years, out of necessity, naps will become a much more accepted, integral and beneficial activity. So, in the future, let us all get caught napping!