Does our contemporary obsession with sleep obscure what makes it special in the first place?
Contemporary sleep evangelizers worry a good deal about our social attitudes toward sleep. They worry about many things, of course—incandescent light, L.E.D. light, nicotine, caffeine, central heating, alcohol, the addictive folderol of personal technology—but social attitudes seem to exercise them the most. Deep down, they say, we simply do not respect the human need for repose. We remain convinced, in contradiction of all the available evidence, that stinting on sleep makes us heroic and industrious, rather than stupid and fat.“If we don’t continue to chip away at our collective delusion that burnout is the price we must pay for success, we’ll never be able to restore sleep to its rightful place in our lives,” Arianna Huffington wrote a couple of years ago, in her best-selling how-to guide “The Sleep Revolution.” By way of inspiration, she offered her own conversion story. She was once lackadaisical about getting enough rest. She thought that to get on she had to stay up. Only when months of chronic exhaustion led her to pass out and break her cheekbone on her desk did she wake up, as it were, to the madness and masochism of her work ethos and set about repairing her “estranged relationship with sleep.” These days, she retires at an eminently sensible hour each night, takes a hot bath with Epsom salts, drinks a cup of lavender or chamomile tea, and, just before getting into bed, writes a list of the things she is grateful for—which is a great way, she tells us, to “make sure our blessings get the closing scene of the night.” As a consequence of her sleep-hygiene regimen, not only has her quality of life improved but her business has done fabulously, too. Sleep isn’t the enemy of success and ambition, she’s discovered, it’s the royal road to the corner office. “Sleep your way to the top!” she jauntily enjoins us.