Sleep as counter-culture
Last night I slept very poorly. This on top of still getting over a cold, which is worse again today because of my short sleep. My undesirable circumstance reminded me of a Lauren Winner essay from January 2006 titled Sleep Therapy.
In my sleep-deprived stupor I re-read the essay and thought it worth posting on. It was written for Books & Culture and the Christian Vision Project and is a seemingly unusual topic for a theological think-tank. All geared up to write a piece on protesting the death penalty, Winner switched her topic at the last minute after pulling an all-nighter. It's a very appropriate topic for a website that bills itself as being a "counter-culture for the common good."
The essay points out to us what should be obvious. When people get more sleep they're more alert (duh), nicer, smarter, healthier and so on. She gives examples from studies. When children go in to school later in the morning, allowing for more sleep, they get better grades and fall asleep less in class. The day after the inane shift to Daylight Savings Time there is an obvious spike in automobile accidents, logically connected to the hour less sleep afforded people the night before. Sleep specialists posit that Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and the Exxon Valdez all point back to sleepy workmen on the job.
Our culture values sacrifice. It values productivity over respite, whether that's sleep, evenings with the family, relaxing weekends or vacations. Sacrifice is good, some of the time. Not all of the time. Work is good. Workaholism is not. We lack balance in America, a mantra I find myself repeating more and more often. Sleep isn't something we can do without. We need it, and, frankly, who doesn't want it as well?
Winner concludes by citing a number of Western poets who, in times past, understood the nature of sleep better than we appear to. One thing they point out is the relationship of sleep to that of death. Of course, Americans will find this morbid and ignore any kind of truth in it. "Is it any surprise that in a society where we try to deny our mortality in countless ways, we also deny our need to sleep?" Winner asks. She then quotes the French poet Charles Peguy:
I don't like the man who doesn't sleep,
Sleep is the friend of man,
Sleep is the friend of God.
Sleep is perhaps the most beautiful thing
I have created.
And I myself rested on the seventh day . . .
But they tell me that there are men
Who work well and sleep badly.
Who don't sleep. What a lack of
confidence in me.
In the last two or three years I've slept more on average than many years previous. I've learned that I am more productive, happier and acute when I'm well-rested. I find myself frustrated when I'm fatigued. A few years ago I would have just dealt with it, ground out the day. Less so in 2008 when I feel like I can help it. Obviously, extenuating circumstances creep into life with some regularity, disrupting even the most religiously restful. Young children, I'm told, are a prime example of this. Illness and travel aren't entirely avoidable either. But we seem to be gluttons for punishment as we perpetuate a culture that begs us to work later, harder, on more weekends.
As for me, I'll take a little more sleep over a longer day as often as possible.
Photo from Wikipedia by Bertil Videt.
Tags: Sleep , Lauren , Winner , Accidents
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