The Morality of Sleep?

In a culture that views taking naps or siestas during the day as being lazy or unproductive, it’s no wonder that we have more and more emotional, psychological and physical health problems in our society. The issue of sleep as a moral conundrum was discussed on this Bloggingheads video at the NY Times.

As a society, we tend to shun sleep for more productive work-related or social activities. This has lead to people sleeping about 1-2 hours less than what we used to do a few hundred years ago. Modern medicine tends to focus on our bodies when we’re awake. What happens when we’re sleeping has been essentially ignored, until very recently. There are now tomes of studies showing the detrimental effects of too short or too long sleep, including problems with memory, cognition, test scores, creativity, and sexual arousal. Medically, if your sleep is too short or too long, you have a much higher chance of developing diabetes, hypertension, obesity, depression, heart disease, heart attack, or stroke. Your overall changes of dying increases significantly if you don’t get the optimal amount of sleep.

This is all assuming that we’re breathing perfectly fine while sleeping. As I’ve alluded to in past blog posts and in my book, most modern humans can’t breathe properly while sleeping. The end extreme of this continuum is called obstructive sleep apnea, but all of us are on a continuum. So not only are we not sleeping long enough, we’re also not sleeping efficiently, due to multiple interruptions from breathing pauses.

This is such an important issue, not only from a public health perspective, but also from a personal perspective—how many of you have had family members or relatives that had a heart attack or a stroke at a young age, or was the victim of a motor vehicle accident due to a drowsy driver?

What should we do as a society to reverse this trend that devalues sleep?



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