June 24, 2006


The Dream of Sleep: It's 5:30 a.m. why aren't these people asleep? (Anne Marie Owens, June 24, 2006, National Post)

"Are you getting any?"

Once a cheeky inquiry about sex, that question is now more likely to be a serious one about sleep.

Canadians are getting up earlier and going to bed later, spending less quality time asleep and subsequently becoming a nation of the sleep-deprived, according to a wide range of indicators.

Everything from hydro usage to business opening hours to traffic patterns suggests we are stretching our days ever longer in the desire to fit everything in, and the thing that is inevitably sacrificed is sleep.

No wonder then that sleep, or the lack of it, has become our new obsession.

In our 24/7, BlackBerry-bolstered existence, getting eight hours of sleep at night now seems as anachronistic -- quaint even -- as the 9-5 workday.

And sleep disruption, even in minimal amounts, has been found to affect judgment, reaction time and many aspects of the brain's problem-solving ability. It is also linked to obesity, performance errors and accidents.

There are diverse indicators in the way we live that are beginning to show the dramatic overhaul in society's standard sleep-and-wake patterns.

The train system shuttling commuters from the suburbs that feed into Toronto has grown more rapidly in the 6:30-7:30 a.m. time slot in the past decade than in the 8:30-9:30 a.m. slot. While the 7:30-8:30 a.m. commute remains the busiest, the number of GO Transit riders has nearly doubled in the earliest morning rush.

In Vancouver, a handful of grocery stores in the Lower Mainland began opening their stores at 6 a.m. to appeal to customers keen to squeeze errands in at the beginning of the day. A year and a half later, the retail experiment has paid off, and 27 Save-On Foods outlets now cater to a growing population of early-morning shoppers happy to trade in an after-work stop at the grocery store to stock up at the start of the day.

Over the course of the past decade, the morning drive time for radio and major morning television shows has gradually moved back in all major markets from a traditional 7-9 a.m. slot to a 6 a.m. or, in a growing number of cases, 5:30 a.m. start time.

Habits are changing at the other end of the day, too: The daily peak electricity demand associated with the return home from work traditionally occurred at around 5 p.m. but is now shifting to around 6 or 7. In fact, for the first four months of this year, the daily peak demand -- when everyone gets home and turns on the lights, the oven, the laundry and everything else -- took place across Ontario at 7 or 8 p.m.

"We don't know exactly what's going on, but these numbers support the idea that everyone's getting home later from work, so we're starting dinner later, turning on all the lights later, everything is getting pushed back later," says Terry Young, spokesman for the Independent Electricity System Operator, which manages the province's power system.

"We don't know for sure if people are going to bed later, but with everything getting pushed back, it's not unreasonable to think that what used to be a wind-down at 10:30 p.m., 11 p.m., might not be occurring until later."

You can't keep making energy cheaper and cheaper and not expect people to use it more.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 24, 2006 10:33 AM
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