Sunday, January 28

A View of Sleep From The Outside

I have recent found the blog A Blog Around the Clock, who is by a fellow that goes by the name of Coturnix. He was born in Eastern Europe and when he came to America he had some interesting observations on the way American's treated sleep.

One thing I noticed upon arriving to the States is that nobody here seems to have any notion of "sleep manners". I have seen (and experienced) many times people barging into the room containing a sleeping person, switching on the lights and TV, talking, even talking to the sleeping person, all the while not being even aware that this is a Big No-No, very inconsiderate, and extremely rude. When confronted, the response is usually very defensive, stressing the person's individual right to do whatever he/she wants and not bother about being considerate about some lazy bum who is sleeping at an inappropriate time. Whoa! Stop right there!

First, individual rights are assumed to mean that you can do whatever you want as long as that does not hurt another person in some way. Waking someone up is harassment - of course it hurts someone. Second, there is no such thing as inappropriate time. If you can, you sleep whenever you can. There is no appropriate or inappropriate time. What do you do if someone is working the night-shift (like my wife often does, and I sometimes do, too)? That person will sleep during the day, so you better shut up. Third, what is this about sleeping being a sign of laziness. The "owls" are constantly being treated as lazy, though they are more likely to be sleep-deprived (cannot fall asleep until the wee hours, then being rudely awoken by the alarm clock after just a couple of hours) and spend more hours awake (and presumably productive) than "larks" do. If you are asleep, this means you need it. If you are rested enough you cannot physically remain asleep or go back to sleep again. You are wide awake. Thus, when you see someone asleep, it is because that person needs sleep right there and then. Sleep is not laziness. Laziness is "lots of front-porch picking".

Pretending that sleep-need does not exist is also institutionalized. I am not talking just about night-shifts and rotating shifts (those will kill you), night flights, being available for communication 24/7, stores open 24/7, etc - those are part of a modern society, will not go away, and we just need to learn how to adjust. I am talking about the building standards. With a huge proportion of the population working at night, why do windows have no blinds? Some old manors do, but new buildings do not. Never. Some have fake blinds, just for show, screwed into the outside walls on the sides of windows, yet cannot be closed. There are no built-in black curtains, or roll-down wooden blinds. It is difficult to find such curtains in stores if one wants to install one. What is going on? I have never seen, heard, read about, or experienced another country in the world in which sleep is not sacred, and blinds are not an essential part of a house.

I see some striking parallels between the way this society treats sleep and the way it treats sex. Both are sinful activities, associated with one of the Seven Deadly Sins (Sloth and Lust). Both are associated with the most powerful biological needs. Both are supposed to be a taboo topic. Both are supposed to be done in private, at night, with a pretense that it is never actually happening. Education in sleep hygiene and sex hygiene are both slighted, one way or another (the former passively, the latter actively opposed). Both are thought to interfere with one's productivity - ah, the good old Protestant work ethic! Why are Avarice and Greed not treated the same way? Raking in money by selling mega-burgers is just fine, and a decent topic of conversation, even a point of pride. Why are we still allowing Puritan Calvinist way of thinking, coupled with capitalist creed, to still guide the way we live our lives, or even think about life. Sleeping, whether with someone or alone, is a basic human need, thus a basic human right. Neither really detracts from the workplace productivity - au contraire: well rested and well satisfied people are happy, energetic, enthusiastic and productive. It is sleep repressed people, along with the dour sex repressed people, who are the problem, making everyone nervous. How much longer are we going to hide under the covers?

Perhaps not that long. It appears that we are slowly waking up to sleep problems (pun intended). More and more companies are allowing naps, and even providing nap-rooms. More and more school districts are moving high-school morning schedules later, as during teenage years, under effects of sex hormones, the circadian clocks are all temporarily "owlish". Adolescents are not crazy and lazy - they physically cannot fall asleep at a normal bed time, and physically cannot awake and feel rested early in the morning (elementary and middle school kids can, as their hormones have not surged yet).