Saturday, 6 January 2007

Time to Sleep

After the holiday break we are now back to our usual routine.One of the biggest differences between holiday and work (apart obviously from the absence of work and school during the holidays) is the amount of time we sleep.

Our usual weekday routine gives us a maximum sleep time of about seven and a half hours but during the holiday, with no alarm clock, we found that we were sleeping for over nine hours a night. I felt much better for the extra sleep. I felt ready to get up as soon as I woke instead of feeling groggy while making my first essential cup of tea and I lost that sleepy feeling around mid afternoon.

In his book, Sleep Thieves, Stanley Coren explores the idea that a large proportion of the population of the western world is sleep deprived. He traces this back to the development of the electric light bulb. Before that invention sources of light for most people were inefficient and expensive and so people went to bed once it was dark.

He compares a study carried out in his laboratory in which he found that a young adult today sleeps an average of seven and a half hours a night with a similar study carried out in 1910. The date was chosen because it was three years before modern efficient light bulbs were introduced. In 1910 the average sleep time of a young adult was nine hours.

It is amazing that this change has occurred in just under one hundred years - probably most of the change in the last generation as we have 24 hour supermarkets, 24 hour television and of course the internet. In the same way that we seem driven to consume, cluttering our lives with excess stuff, our sleep time is being consumed by all the excess activities available to us.

I wonder, will this change in our lives which has occurred so quickly (far too quick for us to become adapted to it) be reversed as we run out of cheap oil? As the price of heating and lighting increases - how soon before the cost of keeping premises warm and light becomes prohibitively high? Will power cuts mean that some of our electronic toys will not always available and will we use the time to sleep more?

There will be many, many problems when the oil crisis hits but I like to think that there will be some good things as well. I hope that having more time to slow down (because rushing from place to place to consume will become too expensive) will mean that we can fall back to the pace of life our bodies are adapted to and I think that means we might sleep more.

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