Our Strange Relationship With Sleep

I have an awkward sleep schedule. And I hate it.

Perhaps I have a different biology, but I need 8 hours….hell, I need MORE than 8 hours. But between working night shifts and hammering out thousands of words a day, I’ve developed a shitty schedule that alternates between 4 and 12 hours of sleep. And I feel it. It’s not natural. I never know what day it is. Yet if you’ve been around enough idiots like I have, many like to brag about their alarming lack of sleep.

“I only slept two hours and have worked 40 hours of overtime this week!”

Why would you be proud of that? You’re essentially affirming that you’re a slave.

But this is where we find ourselves. It’s become a virtue to sell our souls to minimum wage and decry rest. “I’ll sleep when I’m dead!”, many like to proclaim. Yet in making such proclamations, we’re driving ourselves closer to death!

In America, we like to blow our wads early. Perhaps it’s that way everywhere. But we believe in youth. We believe in racing to the top. The clock is always ticking, and we’re running out of seconds. In order to be successful, we have to manage our time wisely. The biggest time waster? Sleep. We don’t view life as a pleasurable stroll in the park…it’s a mother fucking sprint.

So we’re raising generation after generation of miserable pricks, whose sole purpose in life is to not be happy, but to be monetarily successful. Because it’s not enough to be content with oneself, but others must also look upon you with awe. That’s what matters most of all. So fuck smelling the roses, fuck being happy…there’s too much work to be done.

Meanwhile, companies are making record profits and productivity has skyrocketed. And those at the bottom are working longer hours, getting less sleep, and none of it is showing up on their paycheck. Hard work doesn’t make YOU successful, only the company you work for. Yet they might make you feel important by promoting you to middle management….which equals to nothing but longer hours with slightly more pay. It’s only the illusion of success that companies are selling.

I don’t know, maybe that last part has nothing to do with anything.

But one of my favorite books is Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari. Mind you, sometimes I get that book and Francis Fukuyama’s The Origins of Political Order mixed up. So I might get the origins of my facts confused. Yet one of the things I learned from Harari’s book is the sudden development of production-based societies out of hunter-gatherer societies. It more or less began with the domestication of wheat (or as stated in the book….”wheat domesticated humans”), then suddenly humans go from working maybe two hours a day to being actively employed. The causes of such a shift can be debated, and there are likely many, but the result was disastrous (according to Harari) because it created widespread malnourishment among other societal and health problems. (Just read the book)

While this transformation out of hunter-gatherer societies has brought about many technological and humanitarian achievements, we’ve also traded in our natural habitat for an artificially produced one. OR, as Allen Horwitz and Jerome Wakefield might say…we left our Environment of Evolutionary Adaptation, where our psychology evolved to fit the needs of hunter-gatherer societies (where much of human history occurred), and we are now surviving in the modern world. We might be living longer, which might lead one to believe that we are “healthier”, but leaving the hunting fields for the factories and offices has come at the cost of our mental health. As a result, what might’ve been considered natural responses to stress have been manipulated to fit the criteria of anxiety, depression, and a host of other “disorders”, because they don’t quite fit in with behaviors of the modern world.

Therefore, we are now a nation of heavily medicated assholes. A lack of sleep isn’t the only cause of this problem, but the pressures of modernity have certainly made less sleeping a “virtue”…which in turn, leads to more stress…which leads to more “disordered” behavior.

Many like to claim that they don’t need 8 hours of sleep, but I’m calling bullshit.

In this Environment of Evolutionary Adaptation, it is highly unlikely that individuals needed less than 8 hours of sleep to meet the demands of their culture. Not saying it didn’t happen, but such occurrences were likely rare. Probably not enough to change the chemistry of the brain. And we have LARGE FUCKING BRAINS compared to our body size. It’s not as easy as shutting it down for a couple of hours each day and saying “good enough”. Such a complex system needs maintenance. Therefore, you’re not getting less than 8 hours of sleep per night because “you don’t need it”…it’s likely a result of stress brought upon by external factors or a “disordered” behavior (like anxiety), and continuing to not get enough sleep only exasperates the problem.

Look, I’m not saying there aren’t those abnormal folks that don’t need a full 8 hours. I’m just saying that there’s probably not enough of them out there to where I meet 5 or 6 a day. As a general rule, if you think you’re this person…you aren’t.

I had a friend that justified his lack of sleep by saying “when you’re asleep, it’s like you’re dead”. He was also a dick to everyone. While it’s easy to call this person an idiot, it’s also the attitude most of us take.

We’re bombarded with the message “Do more”. Go the extra mile at work. Continue to stack up college diplomas. Cut out any wasteful time that might impede your progress…to include a basic life function…sleep!

But to what end? Does it make us happier? Are we really doing those things to help ourselves? Or are we really doing them to put on the façade…to disguise the fact that we’re corporate slaves…beholden only to the almighty dollar? When we lose sleep, we’re benefiting no one. We’re only affirming that our will is controlled by something else.

Soo….do less?

I don’t know. But just look at human beings as a species. We’re mother fucking animals, yet we put on slacks, stress over money, work over 40 hours a week, and purposefully make ourselves miserable. How’s that for being “evolved”?

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