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August 24, 2013

We're Cursed With Sleep Deprivation

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Sleep has become a really important part of my life, and I didn't really appreciate my ability to sleep until now, mostly because I am exhausted from the last four months. I simply seem to have lost my ability to fall asleep, and cannot seem to recover from sleep deprivation. They say that you do eventually recover from it, but it takes a long time.

After I read this article about how our ancestors (I mean, our great-great-great-great-great grandparents) slept, it occurred to me that a massive contributor to sleep deprivation is man-made: artificial light.

Once, we had two sleeps: we would have a sleep of a few hours, followed by a period of wakefulness, and then another sleep in the early hours of the morning. Our ancestors even sometimes made plans to visit neighbours or go to church in the middle of the night. This was because the range of sleep was about 12 hours long. Obviously this range is shorter in midsummer, when the night isn't as long, but the amount of sleep one had depended wholly on how many dark hours there were.

Of course, modern man is sleep deprived, no matter how much sleep we actually have. This is because artificial light has messed up our natural circadian rhythm, which is dependent on night time actually being dark. Artificial light has not only confused our bodies into believing the daytime hours are longer, both in summer and winter, but they also allow us to distract ourselves from relaxing and sleeping - we have much more to do at night when we should be sleeping, like watch television, surf the Internet, or write blogs.

As a parent, you are desperate for your child to finally get into that circadian rhythm - it's your saving grace, as it allows you to finally sleep through the night as well. A messed-up circadian rhythm is also why it's so tough on people changing time zones, because they have no way of recovering unless they sleep, and it's too difficult to sleep during the daytime.

I don't believe that returning to the way-of-two-sleeps is possible, though. And it won't solve our tiredness problems, simply because I believe we've evolved to the point of no return. What on earth would we do in the middle of the night, you might ask? We'd get too bored without our modern entertainments. We can't even read without electronics! (Unless you're a real-book-with-pages lover, like me)

Unless we're willing to forego all luxuries connected with electricity, we are all forever cursed with sleep deprivation. There's just too much to do!

(Image credit: Albert Anker [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

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