The Shame of Getting Sleep

Monday, July 26, 2010 - 11:08 AM

Today on the show, we discussed the importance of sleep. And most people, if asked, would readily admit they don't get enough. A CDC survey taken in 2009 found that only 30 percent of those surveyed reported sufficient sleep over the past 30 days. Products like Red Bull and Five Hour Energy exist to serve the ever-growing market of people who feel tired and listless throughout the day, and the market to help people sleep is expanding rapidly: one report found that the sleep aid market will be worth $759 billion by 2013.

That people need more sleep is no surprise. But the problem is compounded by something of a sleep stigma. That's the idea that sleep is for the weak, that a full 8 hours or more of sleep is a luxury, and that people who nap or make sleep a priority by blowing off friends or not putting in extra hours at work are lazy or selfish.

In a story on this phenomenon, NPR quoted sleep researcher Eve Van Cauten, who noted that this idea is primarily America. "Sleeping as little as possible is viewed as a badge of honor here," Cauter says.

That doesn't make it any less pervasive, or less dangerous. So what to do? Place more emphasis on efficiency instead of time spent working late. According to The New York Times, a Microsoft survey found  that Americans spend 16 of 45 hours at work unproductively. That's more than three hours a day, much of which could be spent catching up on lost sleep.

  • Instead of looking at how much time you spent at work, measure your progress in how quickly you achieve your goals: it's no longer, "I stayed until 9" but "I finished all my expenses in an hour."
  • It's also worth tracking your time. Apps for the iPhone make it easy to record how much you devote to every activity, uncovering some pretty wasteful habits in the process.

One Slate reviewer who tried it was shocked by how many hours went into wasteful activity like surfing the net or watching TV. By tracking her time, and trying to stick to a schedule, instead of letting her day wander off course, she "'found' nearly another hour in every day for both writing and playing with my kids-the two things I figure I'll wish I'd spent more time on when I'm on my deathbed." (The writer also used a technique described in Laura Vanderkam's 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think.) Don't have an iPhone? Tracking your time in a journal or the back of an envelope for a day is just as instructive. It's possible that you have more time than you think, and that some of those hours can be devoted to getting a few more zzzs.

I'll investigate more about sleep stigma on Newsweek's Human Condition blog this Thursday, so please include any questions of comments about your experiences below.

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