In H. G. Wells’ sci-fi novel The Country of the Blind a sighted man stumbles into a village where all the inhabitants are blind. But because their other senses have been exceptionally fine-tuned they’ve learned to live and prosper without sight. The sighted man tries to explain what sight is but they think he’s mad. His arguments are ignored.
Calling attention to our nation’s sleep debt is like arguing with Wells’ blind characters. Sleep deprived America seems to be prospering without eight hours sleep, and prophets of working less and sleeping more are considered mad. When couples burn the candle at both ends, work 80 hour weeks, add project upon project to their already overly busy lives they often turn on each other rather than attacking the real enemy, a resistance to rest.
Why do we resist rest?
- We’re acculturated to be sleep deprived and remain unconcerned about it.
- Earning money trumps sleep.
- Burning the midnight oil is a badge of ambition, dynamism, go-getters.
- Those who insist on getting their rest are dismissed as lazy.
- Sleep disorders are masked with coffee, sleeping pills, tranquilizers, chocolate, and other stimulants/relaxants.
- Thomas Edison’s legacy lives on: “Don’t sleep more than 3 hours a day!” He invented the light bulb partially so we could work nights.
- Most substance, food, alcohol abuse occurs at night suggesting people medicate their “fear of the dark.” They are afraid that emotional phantoms will haunt them.
- People say, “I need coffee!” instead of, “I need better rest!”
- Fear of nightmares, silence, being alone with our thoughts and unresolved stuff keeps us in perpetual motion.
- We confuse rest with activity and recreation. Tennis, skiing, and hiking are recreational but not necessarily restful.
Tomorrow: Hints for Shift Workers