Get Back to Basics - and Just Sleep

Get Back to Basics - and Just Sleep

What is the most valued commodity in 2017?

As I understand it, a commodity is something we trade and barter. We (or perhaps only I) have been conditioned to regard ‘commodities’ as things that we exchange in our interactions with other people. Yet, if we boil it down, we may find that the most valued commodity in 2017 is sleep.

How do we trade and barter with sleep? Sleep is lost when Wall Street tycoons stay up for 3 AM negotiations. Sleep is gained when family members hear that their relatives have had successful surgeries. Sleep is compromised when newlyweds stress about their 401K’s. Sleep is negotiated between newborns and their young parents in the first week back from the hospital. Gone are the days when a lack of sleep used to be fashionable.

Today, studies show that bad sleep or lack of sleep is intricately tied to chronic health conditions such as depression, mental disorders, obesity, diabetes, and cancer. This makes sense, and I am certain the pre-med students among us can attest to this when we remember that sleep is the body’s way of regrounding itself and processing the day’s thoughts, energy consumption and muscle repair. Additionally, good sleep can improve and maintain brain plasticity and memory. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have identified ‘sleeplessness’ as a public health concern. Public health is not the only sphere that sleep influences either, as the calculated business loss of poor sleep in the US is $411 billion - 2.28 percent of the nation’s GDP.¹

If you are like me (a UVa student working around the clock to meet deadlines, attend meetings, and be that “GoConfidently” presence at CIO events) you may often feel like your bed is your favorite place on campus.

In her recent New York Times article, Sleep Is the New Status Symbol, Penelope Green writes about the innovations and mad-scientist inventions currently being tested to bring sleep back to humanity.

David Rose (at M.I.T.’s Media Lab) is testing weighted blankets for swaddling, as well as bedtime stories and Icelandic fairy tales. Matthew P. Walker (at University of California, Berkeley) is exploring direct current stimulation to cure sleeplessness in aging individuals. Hugo Mercier (Paris) has created a headband that used sound waves to induce sleep. Ben Olsen (Australia) has modelled Thim, a finger gadget designed to cure sleep disruption by startling its wearer awake every three minutes for an entire hour. Olsen also designed the Re-Timer, which are goggles containing green and blue lights that shine into the wearer’s eyes in order to reset the body clock. There exists a Ghost Pillow, which uses thermo-sensitivity technology to keep the head cool. Let us not forget Sense - a polycarbonate globe designed to measure air quality and bedroom improvements to optimize sleep. Entrepreneurs in California’s Silicon Valley have invested $32 billion in the ‘sleep space’ market as of 2012.¹ Our need for sleep has created an entire industry dedicated to customizing sleep for each individual’s needs. We have yet to explore the pharmaceutical drugs and sleep aids available on the market. Even the US army has identified sleep as crucial for optimal soldier performance. These gadgets are priced at anything from $85 to $400.

But what does this mean? Why have we invested billions in an industry that was, as Penelope Green highlights, formerly inhabited by old-style mattress and pharmaceutical companies? We are seeing the rise of apps, gizmos, and gadgets dedicated to providing good sleep. Companies such as Aetna pay employees up to $500 a year if employees can prove they have slept for seven hours or more for twenty consecutive days.¹ Innovative leaders managing organizations such as Accenture, JP Morgan Chase and Uber are rolling out anti-burnout programs to educate their employees on the importance of sleep.

Have we gone too far in our free market economy by monetizing sleep?

Some believe that if we want to improve our sleep, then we have to make changes that the Fitbit and Apple Watch devices cannot facilitate. We need to recapture the ‘simplicity’ of sleep. Maybe we should take Green’s advice. Perhaps it is time that we shelved the gadgets and ditched the gizmos. Perhaps it is time we placed our iPhones and Androids on the other side of the room, far from our already over-stimulated brainwaves. Perhap it is time for long baths. Perhaps it is time to say our prayers before bedtime. Perhaps it is time for whispered pillow talk with roommates or friends. Perhaps it is time we choose to put our homework away instead of falling asleep on our textbooks. Perhaps it is time we get back to basics and just sleep.

References:

  1. Green, P. (2017). Sleep is the New Status Symbol. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/08/fashion/sleep-tips-and-tools.html?rref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Fhealth&_r=0

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