By: Donna C
For most kids today, sleep is not an option in our increasingly high stakes bid of getting into top name colleges in hopes of a high paying salary later on. In a Vimeo video aptly titled, “Sleep When You’re Dead” current Georgetown University students are interviewed on their thoughts of the school as a “pressure cooker.” It’s both fascinating and a bit depressing watching them rattle off their endless activities and club involvements, border lining to extreme. Students there are defined by the question of “What do you do?” and are lauded for doing a million things at once, instead of doing a couple really well. Although the students are aware that sleep is important and it’s okay not to be “busy” 24/7, as long as this “glorification of stress” prevails in the university’s culture, things will never change. Many students proudly declare, “Sleep is for the weak!” and brag about their all nighters, turning work into a contest of who has it worse. Social media such as Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat definitely does not help. You are constantly bombarded with images and videos of what everyone is doing, leading to a sense of worry and false urgency that you have to be doing something every second of the day. Adverse sleep habits however can follow into adulthood and persist far into the long term.
Getting a good night’s sleep for the hundred of millions of Americans suffering from sleep disorders is easier said then done. As a country we have normalized our obsession with numbers with working long hours, willingly jeopardizing our own health and sanity in the process. People now realize that lack of sleep can lead to physical and mental issues like obesity, high blood pressure, depression, anxiety, and affect academic performance from poor memory recall. Nevertheless it seems almost paradoxical how the more we crave sleep, the more elusive it seems. Sleep is becoming an increasingly rare and valued commodity in the 21st century from increased caffeine consumption and electronic screen time. As a result the sleep industry has been skyrocketing; in an article by The Fiscal Times IMS Health reported the U.S sleep industry was worth $32.4 billion in 2012 including mattresses, to “sleep consultants”, pills and medical devices. The CDC also reporting around 41 million Americans, 1/3rd of the working population, are sleep deprived. According to the National Sleep Foundation, more than 50 million will suffer from a sleep disorder like apnea at some point as well. College students will drinks like Red Bull, and 5-Hour Energy, and “make up” for lost sleep on the weekends. Yet, a recent study published in 2014’s SLEEP journal showed evidence that poor sleeping habits in college students could have the same effects as smoking marijuana or binge drinking.
In a Time magazine article on the sleep industry, Yarrow writes that the reasoning behind this is our want for a “quick fix”, when in reality there is no easy answer. Marketers and retail stores have taken advantage of this by selling more “natural” products like candles, teas, bath salts, humidifiers, and special pillows. Bed Bath and Beyond sells more than 600 products in their sleep section alone! Tempur-Pedic mattresses sales have skyrocketed in recent years, as well. Sleep testing is another expensive, yet lucrative option. Mackey of The Fiscal Times writes that a night at a hospital-based sleep lab can cost $1,900, coverable by insurance and in 2009, Medicare payments for such testing rose to $235 million. The problem occurs when patients are using CPAP machines without being told to lose weight or try sleeping on one’s side first, medical director Dr. Fred Holt states writes Mackey. For less serious sleep problems, relaxation techniques, shutting down electronics and avoiding stimulants before bed, as well as having a dark quiet room will greatly help.
In essence, getting a good night’s rest shouldn’t be seen as a sign of being an underachiever, or constantly staying late nights at the office should be praised by your boss. There have been some improvements in our attitude towards moving away from a strict 8-hour workday and focusing on employee satisfaction, which have been great. Company cultures, especially in tech startups like Google, and Amazon, changed the game dramatically and have made the office a fun and creative place to be. Nevertheless there is still a lot of work to be done in educating public on the seriousness of sleep disorders and types of therapy and keep pushing for change in America’s “workaholic” attitude.