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Anne Dalke's picture

doing nothing to improve the world...and getting some sleep??

Last weekend (11/18/07), there was an interesting piece in the NYTimes Magazine about The Sleep-Industrial Complex that seemed to me another great example of "culture as disability":

Our peculiar preference for one well-organized hunk of sleep likely evolved as a corollary to our expectation of uninterrupted wakefulness during the day — as our lives came to be governed by a single, stringent clock. Eluned Summers-Bremner, author of the forthcoming “Insomnia: A Cultural History,” explains that in the 18th century, “we start overvaluing our waking time, and come to see our sleeping time only as a way to support our waking time.” Consequently, we begin trying to streamline sleep, to get it done more economically: “We should lie down and go out right away so we can get up and get to the day right away.” She describes insomniacs as having a ruthless ambition to do just this, wanting to administer sleep as an efficiency expert normalizes the action in a factory.

...it speaks to our view that better sleep is primarily a requirement for better wakefulness — that we “sleep to succeed,” as a recent industry-financed release puts it. (This same report notes that “sleep deprivation currently costs U.S. businesses nearly $150 billion annually in absenteeism and lost productivity.”) And yet it’s this very view — that sleep is a bothersome means to an end, like eating enough Omega-3’s — that problematized sleep in the first place. It encouraged us to power through sleep as efficiently as possible or look for shortcuts.

The question then becomes--as several of you have observed--how to go about making ours a more enabling, less dis-abling culture. Getting a better night's sleep seems connected with reducing our obsession with productivity. I'm thinking here (as one possible intervention) of the Sabbath practices of orthodox Jews, the commitment to "do nothing to improve the world" for 24 hours....

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