March 9, 2013
ELIMINATING THE WORK DAY WILL RESTORE NORMAL SLEEP:
UP ALL NIGHT : The science of sleeplessness. (ELIZABETH KOLBERT, MARCH 11, 2013, The New Yorker)
Posted by Orrin Judd at March 9, 2013 4:07 PMThe electric light bulb has made darkness optional, eliminating the enforced idleness that used to begin at sunset. Modern mattresses and bedclothes trap the heat that the body gives off as its core temperature drops each night. Obesity increases the chances of developing sleep apnea, a condition that combines choking and waking in an exhausting, sometimes life-threatening cycle. For all these reasons and more, Randall anticipates a bright future for the emerging field of "fatigue management." One sleep expert he interviews predicts that "fatigue management officers" will soon be as common at major corporations as accountants. Like time, sleep, it turns out, is money.Perhaps the most provocative claim that Randall has to make about sleep is that we'd all be better off doing it alone. Research studies consistently find, he writes, that adults "sleep better when given their own bed." One such study monitored couples over a span of several nights. Half of these nights they spent in one bed and the other half in separate rooms. When the subjects woke, they tended to say that they'd slept better when they'd been together. In fact, on average they'd spent thirty minutes more a night in the deeper stages of sleep when they were apart. Randall cites the work of Neil Stanley, a sleep researcher at the University of Surrey, in England, who likes to say that there's only one good reason to share a mattress."The Slumbering Masses," by Matthew J. Wolf-Meyer, takes a more polemical view of what might be called the "sleep question." Wolf-Meyer, an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of California at Santa Cruz, spent four years interviewing just about everyone involved in sleep research: physicians, technicians, patients, members of patients' families. He concludes that what Americans have come to think of as sleep problems are mostly just problems in the way Americans have come to think about sleep. "Normal sleep is always pathological sleep, or at least potentially so," he writes.Wolf-Meyer refers to the practice of going to bed at around eleven o'clock at night and staying there until about seven in the morning as sleeping "in a consolidated fashion." Nowadays, adults are expected to sleep in this manner; anything else--sleeping during the day, sleeping in bursts, waking up in the middle of the night--is taken to be unsound, even deviant. This didn't use to be the case. Until a century and a half or so ago, Wolf-Meyer observes, "Americans, like other people around the world, used to sleep in an unconsolidated fashion, that is, in two or more periods throughout the day." They went to bed not long after the sun went down. Four or five hours later, they woke from their "first sleep" and rattled around--praying, chatting, smoking, or making love. (Benjamin Franklin reportedly liked to spend this time reading naked in a chair.) Eventually, they went back to bed for their "second sleep."Wolf-Meyer blames capitalism in general and American capitalism in particular for transforming once perfectly ordinary behavior into conduct worthy of medication. "The consolidated model of sleep is predicated upon the solidification of other institutional times in American society, foremost among them work time," he writes. It is "largely the by-product of the industrial workday, which began as a dawn-to-dusk twelve-to-sixteen hour stretch and shrank to an eight-hour period only at the turn of the twentieth century." So many people have trouble getting enough sleep between eleven at night and seven in the morning because sleeping from eleven to seven isn't what people were designed to do.Till Roenneberg, the author of "Internal Time: Chronotypes, Social Jet Lag, and Why You're So Tired" and a professor of medical psychology at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, also blames the modern workday for our general drowsiness. But Roenneberg sees this not so much as a by-product of industrial capitalism as a quirk of human physiology.Each of us has an internal clock, or, to use Roenneberg's term, a "chronotype." Either we're inclined to go to bed early and wake up at dawn, in which case we're "larks," or we like to stay up late and get up later, which makes us "owls." (One's chronotype seems to be largely inherited, although Roenneberg notes, not altogether helpfully, that the "genetics are complex.") During the week, everyone is expected to get to the office more or less at the same time--let's say 9 a.m. This suits larks just fine. Owls know they ought to go to bed at a reasonable time, but they can't--they're owls. So they end up having to get up one, two, or, in extreme cases, three hours earlier than their internal clock would dictate. This is what Roenneberg refers to as "social jet lag"--each workday, owls fall asleep in one time zone and, in effect, wake up in another. By the time the week is over, they're exhausted. They "fly back" to their internal time zone on weekends and sleep in on Saturday and Sunday. Then, on Monday, they start the process all over again.For larks, the problem is reversed. Social life is arranged so that it's hard to have one unless you stay out late on Friday and Saturday nights. But, even when larks have partied till 3 a.m., they can't sleep in the following day--they're larks. So they stagger through until Monday, when they can finally get some rest.According to Roenneberg, age also has a big influence on chronotype. Toddlers tend to be larks, which is why they drive their parents crazy by getting up at sunrise. Teen-agers are owls, which is why high schools are filled with students who look (and act) like zombies. Roenneberg advocates scheduling high-school classes to begin later in the day, and he cites studies showing that schools that delay the start of first period see performance, motivation, and attendance all increase. (A school district in Minnesota that switched to a later schedule found that the average S.A.T. scores for the top ten per cent of the class rose by more than two hundred points, a result that the head of the College Board called "truly flabbergasting.") But, Roenneberg notes, teachers and school administrators generally resist the change, preferring to believe that the problem is insoluble.