I have never taken any exercise, except sleeping and resting, and I never intend to take any.—Mark Twain
I would dearly love to be sleeping right now, truly I would. Unfortunately, my body has conditioned itself to wake up at this ungodly hour, while everyone else is still sleeping, so that I can actually get some work done before the world starts getting noisy. As a result, to sleep even past 6:00 AM is a luxury rarely afforded these days. I’m not the only one, though. For the past four years, doctors have been warning that we’re not sleeping enough. Cases of insomnia are on the rise. Sure, there are sleeping pills that help some, but those also bring the chance of abuse and, in some cases, addiction. The problem isn’t just limited to the US, either. The whole world is having trouble sleeping.
What causes us to have so much trouble falling asleep and staying that way? There are a number of issues, of course, but the three most common to our contemporary first-world lifestyles are:
- Lack of proper diet and exercise
- Worrying about events we cannot control
- Looking at our smartphones in bed
That third one, of course, is new, and largely limited to people in industrialized nations. In places where 24-hour wifi isn’t quite so prevalent, concerns over personal/family safety take the third spot, which is certainly understandable. In the US, especially, we have a problem putting down our phones even to sleep. Whether it’s playing some silly game, browsing the latest cat memes, or actually reading something worthwhile, we rarely turn off our phones. Making matters worse, recent studies indicate that the light emitted by our phones is bright enough that our brains mistake it for daylight so that the little trigger telling us to go to sleep gets turned off.
Such insomnia is not totally new. Throughout the twentieth century, there were plenty of things keeping our parents and grandparents awake at night. In the early part of that century, we feared becoming involved in a European war, so much so that we were almost too late to help, Then came the Great Depression and I’m not sure anyone slept much. Homelessness, poverty, unemployment, and hunger all have a way of keeping a person up at night. Then, from 1936 on, the threat of a second European war became a worry and those who remembered the first one were especially sleepless. The 1940s were a decade of war and no one sleeps well through that. Troops were back home for most of the 1950s, but the Cold War set in hard and the Red Scare had Americans wondering whether their neighbors and co-workers might be communists. Air raid drills were common in schools, making sure children didn’t sleep well, either.
By the 1960s, parents worried about war in Southeast Asia, violence around the growing Civil Rights movement, and an exploding drug problem. 1972 crushed our faith in government. 1974 introduced us to the worries of inflation. By 1979, we looked at the Middle East as our newest enemy and worried how to keep them in check. Fear of nuclear annihilation reached its peak in the 80s and we responded to any and every threat by attempting to outlaw it, sending more people to jail than the prison system could handle, most for non-violent offenses. By the 90s economics were again a major fear and this thing called the Internet threatened to change the very fabric of our society.
Society is too complex for us to not find things to worry about. My current personal list of immediate concerns is about 20 items deep, and that’s with me trying to be positive. I refuse to be pollyannish and say everything’s going to be alright. The fact that we’re not sleeping like we should is itself a warning that no, everything may yet go to hell in a handbasket.
So, why are we not sleeping through Sundays, every Sunday? I challenged my father on the topic more than once. If one is going to actually believe Old Testament mythology regarding creation, then one has to deal with the notion that, after six days of work, God rested. Throughout the Old Testament, he seemed rather adamant about that whole resting thing and to this day devout Jews struggle with the juxtaposition of secular demands to do things and their religious commandment to not do things on the Sabbath. Spending all day at church seems to me, still, as just as much a violation of that command as if one were working. One does not rest at church, at least, you’re not supposed to actually sleep through the whole thing. My father was never amused, nor moved, by that argument, though.
To me, it just makes good sense. Our bodies, and our minds, need a break. We fill our lives with so very much the other six days, we need a respite to allow our bodies to catch up, re-energize, and recuperate. We need scheduled time to laugh, to read fiction, to have pleasant conversations, to enjoy non-stressed company of friends who don’t care if the house is clean, to ponder, to appreciate. More than anything, we need to be sleeping.
Go back to bed. Chores can wait. Ducktape kids to the wall if necessary. You should be sleeping. Get to it.