Editor: Daniel Smith
Authors (in order of appearance): Jodie Sewell, Hannah Jacobs, Yasmin Butcher. Lauren Firkins, Natalie White, Lauren Mockridge, Kristina Parker, Mike Osborne, Emma Pole, Marcus Wohlgemuth, Jade Reeve, Thalia Greenglass, Luke Harwood, Miskha Yarrow, Luiza Peries, Hannah Balogun, Sam Stoodley, Charlotte Lavender, Charlotte Higenbottam, Kara Johnson, Sophie West, Michael Harnett, Sophia Drinkwater. Kelly Parfitt, Francesca Wood, Mia Wheeler. Oliver Goodwin.
Simon Williams begins his ‘Sleep and health’ article with the statement: “few sociologists it seems, classical or contemporary, have given sleep the attention it deserves” (Williams, 2002:174) In order to rectify the lapse of sociological attention on sleep, this week the third year sociology students here at Canterbury Christ Church University read Williams’ article and produced blogs on the topic.
The students entered the task the same way Williams approaches the topic of ‘a sociology of sleep’: little is written on the topic and sleep is seldom reflected upon. With this as their starting point, they sat down and produced an account of one dimension of sleep and its social significance. These accounts are wide ranging and diverse in subject matter. And, indeed, although some students approach sleep from the same lens or perspective, each account brings to light fresh insights. In this regard, what you will read below becomes an example of how sleep is, as Williams puts it, “a complex, multifaceted, multidimensional phenomenon, which is irreducible to any one domain or discourse.” (Williams, 2002:178) The organisation of the perspectives on the blog can be fitted into Williams’s framework: the various modalities of sleep, it’s how and why; the bodily techniques of sleep; sleep and civility, the rise of a ‘sleep industry’ and what sleep means in the age of (late) modernity.
Each section in this compendium demonstrates sleeps various dimensions; each section also attempts to find a coherence and logical structure to the discussions of sleep. While, as Williams states, sleep is not reducible to any discourse, what we can see developing here is how an account of sleep in one social and cultural context aids understanding of others through its intersectionality. As such this compendium blog has been organised in an order that allows you to read them separately with each author and title supplied, or take them together to see them form a coherent whole.
Why I go to sleep every night
I personally believe that I don’t sleep enough. I aim for at least 9-10 hours’ sleep a night but I am still tired during the day leading me to sleep absolutely anywhere.
From the Williams article Sleep and health: sociological reflections on the dormant I could argue that there are multiple reasons from this deriving from different perspectives.
Using a biological approach I could argue that I go to sleep every night because I need to repay a sleep debt. This debt is created through the periods of being awake and expending energy.
When I am asleep I am still using energy which includes: mind shifts, transformations in the brains activity and the performance of my vital organs. Could my body be using so much energy whilst I am asleep to cause me to be tired throughout the day? From a biological perspective, the reason I feel more tired which affects my analytical ability, my memory as well as perceptual and motor control could be due to an unresolved debt to sleep.
From a sociological point of view, I sleep because it is part of a social process to manage our waking lives. The management of my waking life is determined by the roles I must complete such as work including housework, volunteering, a job and university work as well as class attendance and other bodily requirements such as eating (and using the loo). It could be that because I have so much to do during my waking hours, that I do not get the opportunity to sleep as much as I need?
Due to feeling tired during the day, I am linked with the 40% of participants in the NSF survey who experience excessive daytime sleepiness. It is because of this excessive sleepiness I am able to sleep in many different situations, as Mauss notes. I am able to sleep on the bus, on a train, whilst reading, whilst working, in a lecture (not deliberately) despite the amount of noise or light. I may have ‘practised’ this to fulfil the hours that I did not sleep at times deemed appropriate by society – at night. Sleeping in public is embarrassing which is why I would prefer to sleep in the privacy of my own home, in bed like most people, or on the sofa (if my boyfriend isn’t home, I have to let him sit somewhere!) To remedy my tiredness during the days I am at work, I go to bed earlier with the aim of sleeping more hours and being able to invest more time and effort in work whilst awake. This links directly with individuals deliberately getting plenty of sleep before important events or when ill.
I may have the rights to sleep but the duties/obligations to sleep constrain the opportunities, place and the amount of time I have to sleep. Does this mean I am sleep sick? I try to manage my sleep so that I can function without the use of medication, but I do drink a lot of tea! The tea may not be the normal over the counter remedy but it tastes good and I’m pretty sure it helps me stay awake.
Overall, I am not conforming to society’s civilising system of sleep and I am not ignorant of how tired I am as I use natural ways to remedy it i.e. going to a lot earlier than some. In answer to the question, I go to sleep at night because I am tired. I try to fill all my obligations during the day which from some perspectives causes a massive sleep debt. It is because I cannot pay off this debt with the time I have that I tend to fall asleep in public and in private during the day, which some may argue is not socially acceptable.
So, I think it’s safe to say, that unless I was single, jobless and did not have to pay for rent and all food was delivered to my door, I may get enough sleep.
Why I go to sleep every night
As a student, it would be easy to assume that I can sleep all day and scrape together very little work by working into the small hours of the night. However, I do not fit this stereotype. I go to all my lectures, whatever time of the day they start. As well as this, I am part of two societies that involve rehearsal of singing and dancing that get increasingly physically draining the closer I get to a performance date. For all these activities I have to be healthy and alert, which requires a good night’s sleep. Also, my sleep pattern can sometimes cause me to sacrifice aspects of my social life to ‘top up’ on my amount of sleep. For example if I have a big performance in the evening, I will nap during the day to make sure that I am as prepared as I possibly can be for the evening ahead. Williams would describe these patterns of sleeping- mainly at night and taking tactical naps to optimize my levels of energy- as body techniques. These are techniques one uses to regain control of the body whilst unconscious. Usually we do not have control of our unconscious actions- such as snoring, dribbling, restless limbs- during sleep, so we establish control with body techniques. The final body technique I would say I experience as a student is tiredness as waking sleep. When university deadlines clash with the week of extensive rehearsals culminating in a show, constant tiredness is inevitable. The best way to describe this would be the colloquial metaphor ‘burning the candle at both ends’ completing essay deadlines and extensive dance practice will leave you feeling mentally and physically exhausted.
Goffman would describe this as the presentation of the self in that; I have to present myself as alert and enthusiastic, due to the different activities in my life. My relationship with sleep could be described as instrumental, if we look at my reasons for sleeping. I sleep because I have to give me energy for the lifestyle I lead, although obviously, I am aware that other factors such as diet and stress contribute to this life style as well. One could assume, perhaps paradoxically, that I sleep in order to stay awake more. It is frustrating to have this relationship with sleep, because sometimes when one cannot get to sleep, when the sleep is badly needed to prepare for an important day the day after, the result is that frustration can lead to extra tiredness and thus having the adverse to the desired effect.
Why do I sleep so much?
Last night I got 12 hours sleep, where the norm is only meant to be 8 hours. This could be down to how the previous night I only got 2 hours, therefore I was exhausted. (Williams J 2002 ) states how we simply could not do without sleep, and we do not wish to either. When I do not have a full night’s sleep I find myself unable to function throughout the day and often find myself closing my eyes while on the train etc, with sleep becoming seeing as normal practice while on the train. (Williams J 2002) discusses how there is sociological significance of sleep is for the functioning society. If the society was not getting the sufficient amount of sleep, it would not function and things would not get done. (Williams J 2002) state how by sleeping our energy is expanding. Meaning we are left feeling refreshed for the next day.
Sleeping is important to all members my family and we all tend to go to sleep at an earlier time, this could be to how I get into the routine of having early nights and knowing how much sleep I need before an important day. As a university student, I have deadlines to meet and find myself studying throughout the day which makes me exhorted and often find myself experiencing the model of napping during the day. By setting out a sleeping pattern for yourself it soon becomes routine where you know how much sleep you need to get each night for the day ahead.
Without sleep, I find it impossible to function, and often look forward to being able to get back to bed when I leave it, where as some people see it as a chore.
Why do I sleep so much?
Taylor (1993) has stated that some people see sleep as a ‘desirable’ and ‘acceptable’ pastime; I am one of those people. Sleep is important to me; I ensure that I get a minimum of eight hours sleep a night, if not more; I will also nap during the day on a weekend.
My life consists of travelling to and from university, doing university work and working a part time job. I also spend a lot of time socialising at the weekend. I find that I am always tired; I feel that this is mostly due to a busy schedule; however I will always find the time to sleep. I would not be able to do the activities that I need to without getting the amount of sleep that I do; I cannot function without sleep.
I usually nap on a Saturday, due to a late night out the night before, or in preparation of a night out. Williams (2002) states that in contemporary society, even though the majority of people continue to sleep at night it is easy to sleep throughout day light. He calls this the ‘flick of the switch’ making daytime seem like night time, with a temperature control and our 24 hour society, this makes sleeping through the day possible.
If I do not get enough sleep as I feel necessary, I find myself uncontrollably closing my eyes, and zoning out in formal situations. Therefore I feel that even though I probably sleep too much of my life away, I would rather do that then fall asleep when I need to be awake.
Why don’t I sleep that much?
Sleep is such a natural aspect of life that previous to this lecture I had not evaluated my sleeping pattern in a sociological way. Being told the average amount of sleep a person acquires in their life time is thirty six years was shocking as this amount of time could be spent doing something else with more significance. We as humans are socially constructed to sleep during the night time as Bourdieu states this is culturally invented and a learnt process, though in my opinion it depends on which period of your life you are experiencing as from a young age you are taught by your parents a sleeping regime, you have a set time to go to bed and to wake up. However, when you become a more matured individual, for example, when you attend University you have the freedom to decide your sleeping pattern. From experience, University is the cause of why my sleeping pattern has changed, to the extent I don’t particularly have one anymore. Williams stated that sleep is a ‘motivated act’ I personally have to remember to go to sleep in the early hours of the morning which results in me over sleeping towards the afternoon of the next day. Being a student has many different reasons why there is a lack of sleep with constant work being set and the social life that comes with this lifestyle is the preliminary reason sleeping patterns change. But when you are older and settle down again in life, the sleeping regime will probably be consistent just as when you were a child.
Why do I nap in the day?
The topic of sleep has been heavily avoided within academia and society; this is surprising considering its vital role in our everyday lives. From my own experience, sleep is something that fits around my everyday activities, but also something I look forward to, this may be due to my lifestyle. As is clear in Williams’ article, sleep has a biological base, in which everyone needs to sleep, as it provides many positives such as energy and health positives also, but this article has also shown the importance that socio-cultural dimensions play. As I commute to university, I see many people sleeping on the train in the morning, this is fascinating to me as I find it hard, perhaps because of my presentation of self, but also in case I miss my stop and delay my day, also the factor of risk of others comes into it. Therefore, I get up early to get a train to university, and do not get home until late, I often have a nap after university but this is not a set routine for me. I feel as if I am ‘catching up on sleep’ I have missed out on from the morning, within my private domain. I will not nap after university if I have somewhere to be or something specific to do of importance. This highlights how sleep is attached different levels of value depending on the context of your day. A good example of this in my life, is if I am writing an essay for a deadline due in soon, I will sacrifice my sleep in order to finish the essay because the essay is of more importance in this particular case and I can catch up on sleep at another time. I am able to do so in modern society because of the flexibility we now have, and being able to stay up late with the lights switched on, and also catching up on sleep early the next evening, I know from experience it will not cause me much harm if I miss out on a bad night’s sleep for a couple of nights. I also know that it cannot be a continuous routine as in the long run, it will affect certain aspects of my life such as my health.
How my sleeping patterns have changed…
Throughout secondary school and my first 2 years at university, my sleeping pattern was erratic. I was always awake late at night completing coursework or assignments and I would not go to sleep until they were finished. I drank energy drinks in excess in an attempt to keep myself awake long enough to finish the task. I always left my work to the last minute and rushed to complete it on time.
At the beginning of my 3rd year at university I fell pregnant, and I was unable to control my sleep. If I was tired, I would go to bed instead of doing my assignments. During my pregnancy I would wear myself out really quickly due to the amount I did during the day, working, attending lectures ect, while carry extra weight around 24/7.
Towards the end of my pregnancy, I found it very difficult to sleep, my baby used my rib cage as monkey bars and my tummy got so heavy I could not get comfortable. I also had a trapped nerve which left me in excruciating pain most of the time.
Once my son was born my sleeping pattern changed once more. If he was hungry in the night, I would wake up to feed him, if he needed his nappy changing; I would wake up to change it. During the day, I would try and sleep when my son slept.
Now he sleeps through the night, I have changed the way I organise my day. I will go to bed at night when I get tired. I will organise activities and tasks around my sleeping pattern rather than fitting in sleep around my agenda. I start assignments earlier in order to ensure I get enough sleep and am in a fit enough state to look after a child. I use sleep to conserve energy which enables me to be a productive member of society when I am awake.
A good night’s sleep?
All throughout my young adult life I have always been told by my parents, ‘Michael, you need to get a good night’s sleep, it’s important’ and I have often wondered, what exactly constitutes a good night’s sleep? It is no mystery to me that I am a terrible sleeper, someone who is rarely able to switch off, often consumed by the obsessive nature of the internet whilst attempting to drift off to the ‘land of nod’, but in modern society what can we define a good night’s sleep as? Do we need as much sleep as my parents have attempted to drill into me over the years? Do we live in a society where switching off is a risky manoeuvre? Are we able to exist in a meaningful way if we sleep as much as we are told to? Is sleep a bygone of human being?
So where does the very notion of ‘a good night’s sleep’ comes from? Williams (2002) suggests that sleep is a “functional pre-requisite of society institutionalized in a variety of ways” (Williams, 2002, p.181), on top of this definition Williams suggests that the social process of sleep comes with a set of ‘rights’ and ‘obligations’ in the modern western world, we supposedly have the right to have our sleep without being disturbed, judged or belittled but also have obligations which suggest we must sleep because of our commitment to social endeavours such as going to work or playing sport and we must sleep in a specific type of clothing specialized for the purpose of sleep because of our commitments to social norms of decency according to our culture (Williams, 2002).
Whenever my parents have said to me ‘you need to get a good night’s sleep’ their reasoning has always been based in more conventional biological accounts related to one’s health, and this is evident in the consumer products available for purchase in shops. Night nurse for example is a drug which is for a person suffering from a cold, flu or shivers to help aide a better night’s sleep, its purpose in the very first instance is to aide sufferers of these ailments to sleep, but from a personal perspective I cannot tell you how many times I’ve sat up late at night struggling to sleep thinking to myself ‘you know what, I wouldn’t mind some sort of sleeping aide, maybe night nurse’. It is these thoughts which perhaps tap into the reasons why my parents have suggested to me over the years that sleep is so important and how this has affected my thought processes when considering my own sleep pattern and how to make it ‘better’, tapping into Foucauldian notions of power, knowledge and discourse, the use of biomedical reasoning when discussing sleep has perhaps shaped a discourse where in the eyes of parents sleep is important because it is relatable to better health, something which the existence of pharmaceutical products such as night nurse reinforces in their minds.
But as important as it is to acknowledge my parents advice and how it has affected my own thought processes on sleep it is also as important to acknowledge that I am from a very different generation of people than my parents, a generation where the internet and social media shapes our lives in many different and diverse ways, a generation where entertainment, resources, knowledge and points of interest are readily available to use at the click of a mouse 24/7, 365 days a year. Jean Baudrillard has talked in his writings about the death of the self and society as a simulation where nothing is real, and in essence from a personal perspective I can see myself becoming part of what could constitute a new age embodiment of the self, through its existence on the internet my Facebook profile never truly finds itself as a dormant entity. It does not sleep as such because it is accessible to everyone unlike me as a dormant body in my personal space away from the world fast asleep.
In essence perhaps the fact that I don’t sleep as well as others think I should is a reflection of myself as part of an age of technological dominance and online existence, but of course it is very difficult to distinguish whether this is a true representation of a good night’s sleep or whether it is quite the opposite, oh well guess I’ll sleep on it and give it some more thought in the morning…
Dozing as insomnia
My father has a strange sleeping ritual. To some, it might seem like he never gets “quality sleep”, and even he describes himself as an insomniac. In reality, his sleeping ritual is complex, and it is just that – a ritual. Each night he will retire to the living room at about 8pm, after the foster children have gone to bed. He’ll stay awake for about an hour or so, checking emails, blogging, editing photographs (as are his hobbies), and then around about 9pm (although the exact moment is incredibly difficult to pinpoint) he will fall asleep in his chair. Still clutching his laptop as a comforter, he will doze this way until much later, usually around 2am. My father works as a manager at Royal Mail, and has to wake up at 5am in order to be at work between 5.30 and 6am. Each night, he will spend a grand total of three or four hours in bed, partaking in sleep as we mostly know it in our culture. To health professionals advising a full 8 hours “quality sleep”, my father’s ritual would send them into a state of hysteria – how can this possibly be healthy? How can he be a fully functioning ‘awake’ agent during work hours? This man must be sick! ‘Sleep sick’, perhaps, but on whose terms?
As mentioned, my father self-defines himself as an insomniac. In his mind, he sleeps for three or four hours a night, completely disregarding the approximately 5 hours of dozing in the armchair. Is this because, as Bourdieu would argue, this sleep ritual is a habitus – one that he has learned through social and cultural circumstances, to the extent that is has become an unconscious action? Perhaps it is because in “doing sleep”, he only actively sleeps in a bed for the latter part of the ritual; the dozing doesn’t count because it is not the ‘normal’ way to sleep. Interestingly, if the dozing part of the ritual doesn’t happen (for example if he gets engrossed in a film, or stays up working in the kitchen) he becomes irritable, tired and short tempered the next day – as you would expect of someone who has only had three of four hours sleep. Therefore it can be drawn that this ‘dozing’ period of the ritual is vital, even if it is not an accepted ‘appropriate’ way of sleeping.
The 5am wakeup call is a part of my father’s work regime. He has a day job to go to, one that requires at least 8 hours per day of his time; he is also a foster carer, so work never really stops even when he gets home. This reflects our in-lecture discussion of ‘modes of sleeping’ as being derived from social activities. The ‘dozing’ part of the ritual happens as soon as the foster children (arguably still a part of his working day) go to bed and free up the living room. The ‘nightly sleep’ part happens at a point where his semi-conscious dozing mind wakes him and tells him that if he doesn’t go to bed now, he won’t get enough sleep to make it through the next working day.
My father has been a foster carer for 10 years, and worked for Royal Mail for around 13 years. His sleep ritual has remained a constant for at least this long. In fact, if I really put my mind to it, I cannot think of a time (at least during my conscious memory) where his sleep patterns have been any different. This is how my father approaches sleep, and it is normal within his personal milieu, even if health professionals and glossy magazines are screaming that it isn’t.
The civility of sleep
The civilisation, or privatisation, of sleep
Sleep is an integral part of anyone’s life and the lengths slept changes between everyone and their personal need or availability for it. One thing that is not thought about much in terms of sleep is the effect that society has had in ‘civilising’ sleep. The places and times in which we sleep have dramatically changed alongside changes in societal issues of vanity, class, and pride.
In the middle ages, as Williams argues, sleep was a “relatively ‘public’, undifferentiated, unrestrained matter – anywhere at anytime” (Williams, 2002, p.180). What happened? Why is this not still what happens? We, as a society, now follow constructed guidelines when it comes to our daily sleep. To have what is considered a normal sleeping situation, you would have a bed in an enclosed, private space in which to rest up for the next day. The timing is important too. While it used to be that you would go to bed when the sun fell and wake up again when it rose, nowadays you sleep when you want (increasingly staying up into the small hours of the morning) and then you wake up, with an alarm, for an obligation that you need to attend. These two criteria of a normal sleeping situation are very different from the middle ages’ ideas of sleeping. But why?
The easier topic to look at of these two is the issue of timing our sleep. Back in these times of public sleeping at any time, there was little technology; certainly no common alarm clocks or electric lights. With the invention of the light bulb and sustainable light, we now have the ability to work, play and live much later into the night, when it becomes dark. The sun now has little importance on our ‘bed times’ because we do not require it to operate as much anymore. This has been very helpful because it means we would not have to miss out on as much of the day as usual in the shorter days of winter or autumn. Very helpful indeed! As for waking up at certain times, in our current daily lives you can argue that there are more obligations and requirements of some of us than there were hundreds of years ago. There is more of a focus on punctuality and timing. This has caused the change in our sleeping patterns that makes us wake up earlier and at more specific times.
Going back to the ‘civilisation’ of sleep, there is a definite change from the casual, “we can sleep wherever we want without judgement” sort of attitude. Sleeping is much more a private event now and there are several views as to why this is. Firstly, the development of housing and the affordability of a separate bed for everyone created the availability to sleep in private. This is all good and well, but it does not explain why this has become a more popular choice. Personally, I believe that this is down to sleep becoming more of an intimate and individual experience. When you sleep, you don’t interact with anyone around you and, by the most part, you’d want to be left alone. Sleeping in a bed, with a door between you and the outside worlds gives you peace and the ability to ‘sleep well’.
Secondly, as we are usually unable to control our bodies during sleep, two other reasons are shown: safety and pride. It is safer for someone to sleep away from everything else because this removes most risk while they sleep. Not quite a lovely subject, but if someone was to sleep in a crowded place they could be subject to the cruelties of other people. It is not only safety from people, however, but also the elements of weather and animals. The pride issue is, arguably, on the other end of the spectrum from safety, but when we are asleep we would be likely to embarrass ourselves, should someone be watching. We have uncontrollable bodily functions while we sleep, such as snoring, drooling, or restless limbs, and by sleeping away from prying eyes, we remove the risk of being ridiculed for these traits. Not only are the ‘civilisation’ of sleep and pride related due to bodily functions, but also to the development of pyjamas. Before this no one would think twice about seeing a person sleeping naked; they would think nothing of it. Now, however, with the rise of shame for naked bodies, we have started covering ourselves up while we sleep. Pyjamas have become a way for us to keep our ‘dignity’ while we sleep, despite the previous human ambivalence towards it. While this seems a little silly, to be ashamed of a naked body, this is a socially constructed feeling – we are told it is normal to be clothed.
In a very brief conclusion, sleeping situations and patterns have greatly changed from the middle ages, to the renaissance, to today. These changes have been through where we sleep, how we sleep, and how long we sleep for. All of the current trends of sleeping seem normal to us now, but if you look at the difference between the past and the current day, you can definitely see the influence of societal pressures and ideals. Even something as simple as sleeping inside a private room, which seems as normal as fish and chips to most of us, can be seen to only be a product of society’s views of what is proper.
The sleepover: potentially the most exciting thing that ever happened throughout the primary schools years. A group of girls congregating in someone’s living room, sprawled over every flat surface in their sleeping bags, giggling and whispering about boys until the early hours of the morning, with a ‘midnight feast’ containing every kind of sweet imaginable that you would have been hung, drawn and quartered for touching before the allotted time.
However, as we’ve grown up the typical sleepover has changed from what we knew and loved. As the talk of interest in boys, transforms to actual interaction with the opposite sex. Having a sleepover with just one person, and that one person just being a boy is something that would have sent shudders down the spine of my younger self.
The phrase ‘sleepover’ changes massively from youth to young adult. As we get older, when we think of a sleepover it no longer means those carefree days of stuffing your face with chocolate and not giving a shit what anyone thinks of you. An ‘adult sleepover’ now translates to the first time that a potential love interest and you spend the night together. Even the phrase ‘spend the night together’ has connotations; we immediately think of the sexual nature of what could happen throughout the night.
During said ‘adult sleepover’, there is typically not much actual sleep involved. It’s deemed socially unacceptable and almost rude to want to go to sleep at a reasonable hour when you have a guest. It may give off the impression that they’re boring you and in no way are you interested in them in a sexual way.
As time has gone on I’ve noticed the relationship between sleep and sex. As a race, people tend to be quite prudish when it comes to things of a sexual nature and try and confine the whole category to one specific room, the bedroom. ‘Have you slept together?’, ‘How is it all in the bedroom department?’ just to name a few. In Western society the bedroom is seen as the ‘sanctum of intimacy’ (Hawkes, 1996) but this was not always the case as Elias points out, in medieval Europe it was common to share a bed with multiple people and the bedroom was seen in the same light as we seen the kitchen nowadays, as a public sphere.
There is so much to worry about as well when having an ‘adult sleepover’, you have tick a huge number of boxes. Am I being funny enough? Does he like me? Will he never speak to me again if I take my make up off? And probably the biggest worry of all, are we going to ‘sleep together’ or genuinely sleep together. A close second to this is the fear of the dreaded morning breath. All in all, if you want to see if a boy is in for the long haul, invite him for a sleepover where it literally is just sleep.
Is sleep becoming more public?
As Williams has pointed out in his journal on the sociology of sleep, sleep hasn’t always been a private matter. During the middle ages, for instance, it was widely seen as a very public activity where people slept anywhere, anytime. However, sleep has gradually become more privatised, in fact, the bedroom is now seen as a very private and intimate space, and usually only belongs to one person. Nevertheless, I personally believe that sleep is becoming more of a public matter in more recent years, and this is evident when looking at the increase in the ways people travel. Whenever I have travelled by plane or by train, it is always socially acceptable, and almost the ‘norm’ to spend the journey sleeping.
Firstly, this can be linked to what Dement calls a ‘sleep- sick society’, associated with the temporal patterns of sleep, which points out that in this period of late modernity, people are sacrificing hours of sleep for night shift work. As a result, these workers are then catching up on sleep they have missed when travelling to or from work on public transport, highlighting the idea that sleep is becoming less associated with the privacy of the bedroom, and can be connected to something that occurs in the public sphere. Secondly, the sleep industry are developing products that help assist this shift sleep is making into the public sphere, by selling travel kits for people who want to sleep on trains or planes. For instance, sleeping masks, ear plugs, and pillows are available to allow people to have the opportunity to sleep comfortably while travelling. However, it can also be inferred that by cancelling out the noise with earplugs, shutting out the light with a sleeping mask, and being given comfort by a pillow, may give the sleeper the illusion that they are sleeping in the privacy of their bedroom rather than in a public space. Furthermore, it can also give off a sense of privacy to the public, as they would not approach or disturb the sleeper because they are asleep, even though they have chosen to sleep in a public space.
Sleeping on a train…
Back before I lived in Canterbury I used to get the train to university every day. This meant waking up very early and commuting with several other people in a crowded passage. My train would arrive at 7:20 and I would arrive in Canterbury at 8:30. One of the things that are noticeable on this early morning commute is the amount of sleepy or sleeping passengers.
This experience was brought back to my memory when looking at the work of theorists such as Giddens on ontological insecurity and sleeping culture (Hancock 2008) and Elias’ work on how sleeping in our modern world has become far more private than in previous societies and in our cultural past. Society used to be a case of sleeping when it was dark and waking when the sun came up. Now we live in a world where we can have light whenever we want it and our whole worlds can fit in our pocket on our phones. This means the boundaries between sleep in terms of where and when are breaking down; you may only sleep on places like trains as you have no time to sleep otherwise due to commitments to work.
One of the things that shows how unprepared we are as a society to deal with a sleeping body is when the ticket master would come to make sure that every passenger had a valid ticket for the journey. When they came upon the sleeping person they would be caught in an almost liminal state. You could see on their face the confusion as they tried to argue with themselves, “do I wake this person to check their ticket, which is my job” or “do I leave this person to sleep”.
The latter argument comes from the fact that as a society we are conditioned that sleep is a very personal and private matter, waking someone from sleep is unacceptable unless there is an emergency. This idea has become so ingrained in the consciousness of society that we still would not wake a sleeping person even if it was our job to interact with them to make sure they had a valid ticket for a train journey.
Sleep, a culturally constructed activity?
Even though the reading, “Sleep and Health: Sociological reflections on the dormant society” (Simon J. Williams 2002) did not focus on the idea of sleep as a cultural concept, significant links can be made. This was interesting for me as my dissertation is on Multiculturalism in Post War Britain. Therefore the idea of sleep as a culturally constructed activity is something that is of great interest to me.
Even though I do believe that sleep is learnt behavior and is linked to the norms and values of the society you live it. Through immigration, the ideas of ingrained and learnt behavior becoming part of the Habitus (Bourdieu) is questionable. Even though sleep is embodied, it is argued that your learnt sleep behavior is relative to firstly, the culture you are from but also secondly, the society you’re living in.
Notably, we do live in an era of hyper-Multiculturalism in 2014. The body is taught to sleep not only through primary socialization but society determines when, where and how you sleep to a certain extent. The routine of daily life is centered on time and the economy. Generally we wake up when the sun comes up in order to start our working day, going to school or any other activities. And we sleep when the sun goes down, most shops close at five to six and school closes at three to four. Therefore our sleeping pattern mainly revolves around the institutions in society that we take part in. This can therefore be seen to not be controlled by Ethnicity or Culture; it is part of a larger social process that arguably all members of society partake in.
However, it is arguable that sleep is also an individualized process that is culturally constructed and dependent. How we sleep, who we sleep with, when we sleep and what we sleep in are all factors that are learnt through primary socialization and re-enforcement. Sleeping together, sleeping alone, Sleeping in the day or in the night are all determined by necessity. As well as cultural dependency, it depends on your social class. If you can afford for everyone in your family to have their own bed/ bedroom then sleep becomes an individualized process. However, if you cannot then it becomes part of necessity to sleep with somebody, this therefore will take away the notion of sleep as sexualized or privatized.
To conclude, I do believe that sleep is learnt behavior however certain parts of your discourse of sleep are culturally dependent. This is not to say however that it cannot be changed or altered to fit the society that you’re living in, or even the place you might find yourself in even for a short space of time. Do you sleep on holiday the same way you sleep when you’re at home, do you sleep at someone else’s house the same way you do in your own house?
Bodily techniques of sleep
Techniques of the Body with regards to sleep.
Sleep can be considered in a socio-cultural context, specifically; how sleep is mediated by social relationships. As a learned behaviour we are trained when to sleep, how and where, from birth. When, where and how individuals sleep is culturally mediated. We are gradually weaned off sleeping throughout the day, due to the need to complete tasks imposed on us such as school and work, this shapes ones Habitus (Bordieu). Some sleep on mats on the floor, some with blankets and some with duvets and pillows, in a bed, or in a hammock, some even sleep standing up. Where, when and how a person sleeps can affect their positioning in society, those who do not sleep ‘well’ (insomniacs) and those who sleep in the wrong place (on the streets) often suffer prejudice and are often seen as having a problem. Where a person sleeps is often mediated by financial capital, due to the cost, not all people can sleep in a four poster bed. When a person sleeps is socially mediated, by any tasks which must be performed. How a person sleeps depends on how they were socialised, often those who became accustomed to noise when sleeping have difficulty sleeping in complete silence and often need devices in order to help them to sleep, such as the TV. This can be considered as the commodification of sleep, capitalism cashing in on a biological necessity, or simply variations in behaviour as a response to particular environments.
Sleep as liminal state between wakefulness and death, is biologically necessary in order to be able to function to the best of one’s ability in the same way as food. For this reason some countries have adopted an obligatory time for a siesta. At the hottest part of the day in Spain (2-4pm) all shops are closed. All those who work in shops are enabled to take time to eat and sleep, in order to be able to come back to work, allows for a changeover of workers and for many shops to be open to stay open until 10pm. In this circumstance the individual body is trained to use sleep in order to perform in a particular way to conform to society (the civilising of sleep-Elias). The body is given the opportunity to rest though even if it doesn’t not rest; it will be expected to work until 10pm. I find this obligatory napping for all, a strange concept having grown up in England. I could not imagine my local shop or pub being closed post lunch. Though after experiencing the sweltering 40 degrees heat, I can fully understand why sleeping during the day is a good idea, also very useful to all those who have dinner at 9pm and then go out to meet friends, as there is a significant variation in the demographic of those who frequent places which are open at 1am in England vs Spain, there are often both young and older people socialising until the early hours. Naps which some think are only acceptable for children, pregnant women, students and the elderly (all liminal states) are not only encouraged but expected in certain places in the world as part of the protestant work ethic. This proves that sleep rather than being simply a biological necessity is key for maintaining certain modes of productivity in particular circumstances. How, Where and When we sleep, is socially mediated and therefore learnt behaviour.
The ‘Doing’ of Sleep and Rest
Despite the limited amount of sociological literature on sleep, sociology does help us to understand that the ‘doing’ of sleep is not just a natural or biological act; how, when, and where we sleep is related to social and cultural contexts. More importantly, how we know how to sleep becomes part of our habitus through socialisation. Right from an early age we are taught when and where we are meant to go to bed, we have a set and ritualised routine of getting ready for bed: switching off electrical equipment and lighting, brushing teeth, changing into pyjamas.
Obviously, these ‘body techniques’ as Mauss (1973) and Bourdieu (1977) describe differ according to society and culture. For example, in Western societies, we have learnt that we normally sleep on a bed or on something comfortable in a bedroom or somewhere out of public view. Whereas, in other cultures, individuals have been taught to sleep in other locations, positions, or times of day.
But who decides which type of sleep is normal or abnormal? There is no-one who tells us that we couldn’t sleep in a classroom, or on a bus, or have a nap during the day; and yet some of us do this and go against the norm despite internalising these learning processes of sleeping. As we get older and become more individualistic in a modern society where technology, news and events run 24 hours; we can gain some control over our own body rituals of sleeping. For some this may mean eliminating sleep altogether, or having regular naps during the day in order to get tasks done. In a way, we end up creating our own body techniques of ‘doing’ sleep that are task related.
Specific body practices of sleep
Sleep is conventionally thought of as a biological requirement. The simple act of sleeping is anything but simple. It has been conceptualised, commercialised. The bed and ‘doing’ sleep is heavy with discourse describing the practices of sleep within social life. It is understood that the body needs sleep as a biological imperative. However this has various social implications. Discourse generated about the body practices of sleep describe what acceptable sleep can be, it limits the forms and practices of sleep that are available to the individual. The individual is regulated to act within specific types of sleep, creating an ‘eco-system’ of sleep within modern society. The ‘bed’, a specific object which is a conceptualised tool for sleep, we have an entire room named for the concept of private act of sleeping as it contains the bed. In social life these have become requirements in the home or living space, otherwise the home is incomplete, it is unfinished. There is a specific wardrobe of private clothing separate to public attire that is worn in tandem to the doing of sleep. Select body practices accompany sleep, set in the habitus to be carried out chronologically leading up the final act, finishing the day with the body practice of sleep. Commercial industries capitalise and buy into the social practices of sleep that everyone are required to from imposing discourse. They control the imperative of sleep, both on a physical and social domain. The market is saturated with variations of the bed ranging from comfortableness to individualised styles. But it doesn’t stop with beds, any object that has become part of the body practices incorporated into sleep can be sold. Creating a large portion of the market revolving around the act of sleep.
The Sleep Industry
Sleep as a commodity
Sleep is something that is free; however it has been turned into a commodity rather than a necessity. The post-industrial society that we live in is obsessed with creating products to buy and sell, and the realm of sleep is no exception to this. The capitalist system that we live in now states that the majority of the industry is owned by a minority of society, and it is the majority of society that sell their goods and services which are then sold for a profit (World Socialist Movement [online]).The industry that has been created around sleep and the products needed for a good night sleep is growing. There has been 8.8% increase in the spending on sleep annually since 2008, with a massive $32 billion spent in the sleep industry in 2012 (The Sleep Industry [online]). In the article ‘Sleep and Health: Sociological reflections on the dormant society’, Hind (1997) estimated that in Greater London, 321’000 beds were purchased in one year. A bed is deemed as a necessity to have a good night sleep, as well as sleepwear, bedding, blankets, pillows etc. Dragon Rouge claimed that “there is a universal need for maintaining balance and navigating daily life in a way that allows you to be the best you can be” (Dragon Rouge [online]), and this is the widespread belief that has turned sleep into a commodity. You not only need to have what is ‘necessary’ to have a good night’s sleep but you must also have certain products to both create comfort and that better your health whilst sleeping.
It has been pushed onto society that a bad night’s sleep can create bad health and not set you up correctly for the day ahead. It has been linked to depression, obesity, stress, heart disease and diabetes (NHS choices [online]). With medicine being both conventional and alternative in our contemporary society; there is no end to the sleeping pills, nasal strips for snoring and herbal remedies. Furthermore, there is a whole industry that creates bedroom products to produce a more peaceful and comfortable setting for sleep. Alarm clocks, bedside lamps, heated blankets are all required in a bedroom now, not only for a more comfortable room, but also to show wealth. Even the mobile and tablet industry have now began creating apps that can monitor your sleep and provide tips to give you a more peaceful night’s sleep.
But is this industry being created as another way to take money from us when actually sleep is a human right, not a commodity?
Sleep as an industry
In an 80 year life span, the average person sleeps for 36 out of those 80 years, so sleep is something we spend a lot of our time doing, yet it is free money wise, only costing us time. However sleep has still managed to become a huge, money making industry all over the world. In his article ‘Sleep and Health: Sociological reflections on the dormant society’, Simon J. Williams explains how sleep is something very much looked into in scientific studies but rarely in sociological studies. Sleep is also something everybody does yet it remains quite a mysterious subject as nobody can properly explain why we do it or define it Williams, 2002). Sleep is a necessity for everybody and without it we would not be able to properly function or go about our everyday activities and it is common knowledge that lack of sleep is linked with disorders such as anxiety and depression. Companies in the sleep market have played on this fact managing to make a lot of money from assuring people they will get a good night’s sleep. Since 2008 spending on things related to sleep has risen a whole 8.8% reaching about $32 billion in the US in 2012 (Yarrow, 2013).
There are many different types of sleep related products, and now even the beds which we sleep in and the mattresses we sleep on can be extremely expensive (well into the £100s). We must then also buy duvets, pillows, sheets and covers which can also be pricey in certain places. Bed covers have arguably become like a sort of fashion where shops such as John Lewis are selling designer bed covers for as much as £100. On top of this we then spend money on bed clothes – again pricey in many places and also available in many designer brands – and all of this is costing you money before you even get to the point where you actually want to go to sleep. Many women, and also more recently men, also spend money on things such as night creams, night face masks, night hair masks, to wear whilst you are sleeping to apparently re-generate you. People who have trouble sleeping, but know how important it is to sleep, may also spend lots of money on things to aid their sleep such as sleeping pills, incenses, drinks etc. If somebody snores whilst they sleep they may also spend money on treatment for this ranging from medicines to treatments as extreme as lasers. As well as the market of things which aid your sleep there are companies such as ‘Silent Night’ which promise that if you buy a product from them you will get an assured good night’s sleep and Premiere Inn, a hotel chain which guarantee you a good night’s sleep and if you do not get one you can supposedly claim your money back.
All of this and the sleep industries huge growth relates back to us becoming more and more of a capitalist society. As Marx predicted we have become a capitalist society, so could we argue that because of this industry lower classes in society are getting a worst night sleep than those who are upper class? Because upper class can afford expensive sleeping aids and for example, comfortable memory foam mattresses. If sleep is something which is necessary for everybody to function and a free activity to carry out, is it fair that those who can afford it are getting a better night’s sleep just because they are economically able to feed the industry.
The Consumerisation of sleep
In this consumer society, sleep has become something which can be bought and sold and aided by buying products/services. The idea of ‘sleep aids’ has become something that allows people to buy sleep, what I mean is, if you’re having an off day/while and can’t sleep, you go straight to the shop, not even a pharmacy anymore, and buy these herbal remedies which are not even proven to work or a product which has been ‘medically proven to work’ and take some and then sleep (ideally). This comes with the ever increasing of caffeine and caffeinated products, such as coffee and pills, like pro plus, which allow people to avoid sleep for how ever they need. These come hand in hand with late modernity and the 24 hour society which allows people to decide whether to sleep or not sleep. Also this is an example of how sleep has become medicalized, that is, sleep has gained a focus placed upon it, which creates categories in which people are placed and judged upon, not only by producing these sleep aids but a whole medical category of sleep disorders.
This is just one way that sleep has become a product of consumerism.
Bed clothes is another example, in society, well at least the society in which I live, it is necessary for people to buy the best bed clothes, be it pyjamas for the comfortable nights in the winter, to lingerie or so called ‘sexy pj’s’, especially in certain times of the year (in particular February). These things, which are essentially clothes which no one, or at least limited people, will see, are the most expensive types of clothing.
Sleep has become an industry, be it sleep aids to beds, which constantly barrage people with the best way to control sleep, to have the perfect sleep and the best nights in bed, by telling us to purchase products which promise this to us. This industry is ever increasing promoting new products and even being linked to the medicalization by selling remedies to sleep disorders, and this creates a dependant society based around consumerism.
Foucauldian analysis of this would suggest that this all is preforming within a discourse of sleep, where the focus is on creating the perfect sleep by medicalization which doesn’t conform leading to this industry which helps to remedy the disorders and helps create this perfect sleep.
Gifts of sleep, gifts of gender
I got a pair of pyjamas (pjs) for Christmas and it got me thinking about how sleep had become the latest activity to be commercialised by our consumer society. When I first opened up my present, I thought it useful; something that could be put in the drawer and then worn when another pair were dirty. But when you actually think about the use of pjs, they seem almost pointless.
Ultimately, pjs are marketed as something that keeps you warm in bed, but am I wrong in saying that that is what a duvet is for? In one sense it could be argued that their use is a means to protect your modesty in society. However this begs the question, ‘who are you protecting your modesty from?’. If you have your own bed, you are covered by your duvet so your modesty is protected. And if you share your bed you tend to share it with a person who you are comfortable with or in most instances are in a relationship with and thus intimate with. However, our consumer society has latched on to this product as something that everyone should wear in bed. It has become a necessity, a must have in our society.
It can be argued that pjs are socially, historically and culturally contingent. They exist in a certain form that is the product of our social and cultural history. The idea of wearing clothes to bed developed in the 17th Century, showing how this trend hasn’t always been around (Hawkes, 1996). In a similar way to Williams (2002) who argues that sleep is something that is culturally learnt, it can be argued that the wearing of pjs operates in the same way. Our consumer society has, as with other pieces of clothing, marketed the wearing of pjs to earn money. In a similar way to other pieces of clothing, pjs come in different colours, sizes and styles, making the piece of clothing accessible to all consumers.
What is interesting about pjs is that they represent so much more than a piece of clothing. They have become a signal of some sort in which they symbolise comfort, laziness and in some ways an identity. By identity, I feel they can be associated with some people. I have a housemate who is always in their pjs during the day, which shows how the wearing of pjs has changed from not only being a piece of clothing worn at night, but ultimately comfy clothing. Furthermore, by wearing pjs you are almost taking off your day clothes that represent work and stress, and putting on your comfy pjs that represent home and safety.
In a similar way, there exists gender differentiation in relation to pjs. For instance, I received pjs for Christmas, however my brother did not. In fact, my brother doesn’t wear pjs, he sleeps in his underwear. I believe we have culturally learnt to wear different things to bed based on our gender. To reassert these notions of identity, capitalism markets different versions of boys and girls pjs in which girls wear almost ‘sexy’ pjs and boys wear baggy clothing. This is pretty insightful to note that as women, our bodies are still sexualised when we are resting; we have no break from patriarchal society.
The reality of nightmares
The last two weeks or so, I have been plagued with nightmares, usually indecipherable, but nonetheless, nightmares. There are points where my sleep is restless, to an extent that it is beginning to affect me during the day, but recently I got to thinking (when it wasn’t about being tired) why I’ve been having nightmares, and how it is actually affecting me socially.
Nightmares, any lay person could tell you are just bad dreams, but in reality they are more than just that. If the mind is using a sleeping body to project and sort the day’s information, surely a nightmare is an internal indicator of negative occurrences in society that the body has categorised as such. From this I could believe that my nightmares are just reflections of a series of bad things that have gone on in my life recently up to this point, but I know of little that could be used as “nightmare fuel” in my recent life. Then I came across the concept of nightmares as a projection of societal fears during the process of sleep. Taking note that fear is nothing more than “psychosomatic and social-emotional reaction to certain situations,” (Taimalu et al. 2007) lead me to believe that nightmares are nothing more than fear during sleep. This, in all respects I have more in common and belief in, with my problems and fears extending across a fear in my work and graduation grade from university, to finances, to the uncertainty of the future. These fears, while not a problem in full while in waking society, are obviously a problem that my dormant mind expresses through nightmares. And what about a fear of social reflection, in that how I represent myself to others, especially in my moderately sleep blotted state, is that causing me an infinite loop of problems, where I fear about my presentation, and henceforth promote the fears that I have when I sleep. If so, then all I need to do is just calm down, and as my remember what my mum used to say. A nightmare is only as bad as you let it be.
Sleep in the age of (late) modernity
Sleep and the protestant work ethic
Classical and contemporary sociology has not given academic thought to sleep and neglected the sociological significance of sleep. Sleep has been primarily studied though the use of science and biology as, traditionally, sleep is seen as a nothing more than a biological act. There are many aspects of sleep which can be understood sociologically: the sleeper role, temporal dimensions of sleep, body techniques and the doing of sleep. Classical sociology, especially the work of Weber, can be applied to the understanding of sleep.
Weber is seen to be one of the founding fathers of sociology along with Durkheim and Marx. Weber is most famously known for his work on the Protestant work Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. This idea can be applied to give a deeper insight and understanding of sleep during this particular historical epoch.
The Protestant work ethic is essentially the view that a person’s duty and responsibility is to achieve success through hard work and thrift. This idea came about through Weber’s thesis of the relationships between the teachings of Calvin and the rise of capitalism in the west. The idea that hard word is directly related to success would mean that sleep is fundamentally important in order to achieve this success. In the article by William’s discusses the idea that sleep is a biological function which the body rest and recuperate. If the body does not have a chance to rest and recuperate then it would not be able to particulate in hard word/labour which would mean that the Protestants would not be successful and achieve the goals. For this reason in the historical epoch which is characterised by hard labour; sleep is a necessity.
With respect to the sleep and the protestant work ethic sleep is fundamental in achieving success and their goal in life.
Sleep in late modernity
Williams (2002) highlights how our sleeping patterns have undoubtedly changed, as modern contemporary society now seems 24 hours a day, this allows for work activities day or night. From this we can see how the internet fuels networking and it seems normal for individuals or organizations to work during the night in order to be most up to date with trends or breaking news. It would seem as a community we have less time dedicated to sleep, and with technology such as smart phones and tablets it is very easy to become distracted from the importance of dedicating time to sleep.
When looking at my own sleeping patters it is clear to see that social networks and easy internet access certainly have become part of my routine. Before bed I seem to find myself scanning through various social network sites, my calendar for any future events or deadlines. This means prior to me switching off the light and going to sleep I am filling my mind with information.
I feel that sometimes this has a huge impact on how well I will sleep that night, for example I could be thinking about planning my time for the next few days, or even to something as insignificant as photos uploaded on a friend’s Facebook page. With modern technology allowing us to blog, post, upload, read and share information 24 hours a day, I feel it is possible to suggest that our health and certain sleep disorders could be impacted by this.
Also with the internet providing information surrounding sleep it is easy to self-diagnose issues surrounding sleep and what is normal or advisable. However it would seem that these are usually connected to bio medical perspectives. However if we consider more simple aspects of our social lives such as the amount of time staring at our phones or laptops perhaps we would be less likely to miss manage sleep. I certainly feel that my anxiety levels or ability to switch off are hugely affected by the amount of time I spend on the internet before going to bed.
Sleep in a 24 hour society
Sleep during day light hours is considered to be more acceptable now in an era of the 24 hour society of late modernity (Taylor, 1993 cited by Williams, 2002). Bygone generations considered sleeping during daylight hours both lazy and a waste of valuable time. However, in an era where we have more control over daylight hours with the use of electricity and social media the boundary between day and night is blurred. My being characterised as a late riser has always been talked about and ridiculed by both my family and, since starting university, by my housemates. This is to the point where clearly it is still something that is not accepted even in late modernity by my own generation. But because sleeping and night-time activities commonly take place behind closed doors, it is not something that should be ridiculed by other people because it is something that is more privatised that before.
My mobile phone is constantly on, something that has become a habit since moving away from home. The fact that my phone is switched on and constantly able to receive messages often interrupts my sleep, but I tell myself that this is a security blanket in case of emergency. Recently, when I had to be up for 5am the constant bleeps from my phone interrupted sleep that was desperately needed for the following day. People have greater control of when they choose to sleep, particularly when you don’t have a strict regime of work or university lectures that must be attended, mostly during the day. Melbin (1987) cited by Williams (2002) suggest that night has become a “new frontier” that we are invading, suggesting that in late modernity we are not constrained by the cyclical nature of daylight vs darkness. Social networking everyone to remain active around the clock, this is particularly so for large international corporations and even for individuals who have family members or friends who live in other time zones. Contact and interaction is necessary for successful functioning of businesses and relationships, respectively.
Pre industrial society is said to have been task orientated, this to me is echoed in late modernity, whereby if a deadline is looming our sleep pattern is often dictated by how close to completion the deadline is, (something that is very familiar to students). Therefore we are not so far removed from the pre-industrial era as William (2002) suggests. Perhaps the only change is the availability of electricity and therefore computers that change the nature of task orientated sleep.
The 24 hour society has become necessary for a fast paced world which is characterised by late modernity, whereby is it necessary to have 24 hour emergency services and even 24 hour supermarkets. The availability of these enables a vicious cycle of variability is sleeping patters, commonly contributing to sleep disorders such as insomnia (as noted by Dement and Vaughan, 1999, cited by Williams, 2002). Living in a liminal state of sleeplessness could arguably contribute to an ontological insecurity, whereby individuals have little certainty about their sleeping role in society. This is perhaps something that needs to be addressed further by sociology.
Sleeping in this life
Sleep is something we do all around the world during some part of our day. You might think that sleep is therefore a personal and private matter which is part of you. However through sociological research it is in fact neither a private nor personal matter, biological or neurobiological. Sleep is overall understood as functional for society (Parsons, 1951) and provides essential preparation for valued social roles and a vital release from everyday life. However in recent years the increase in the lack of sleep has been worrying and we are falling into this ’twenty four seven wired awake era’.
Sleep affects everyone differently in different ways but in particular it changes throughout the life course. Throughout life sleep is marked by changes, transitions and negotiations that can be associated with partners, children, parents friends and other biological transitions associated with life events such as marriage, parenthood, retirement, divorce, widowhood which all impact upon sleep in some way. Throughout childhood sleep consumes a large proportion of a child’s life and they are taught by their parents the rituals and routines of normal sleeping patterns. Children who do not get enough sleep are now being deemed as unhealthy and have educational problems and the increasingly importance in sleep is being brought to light. The romanticised image of children’s bedtimes that go willingly to bed at early hours are found to be purely mythological and babies and small children in fact wreak havoc with parents sleep. With the increase in televisions, computer games, mobile phones, the bedroom has now become ‘bustling zones of increasing networked activity’ (Venn & Arber, 2008)making it even harder for both children and parents to get the sleep that they need. The impact of children’s sleep deprivation on their parents demonstrates the relational nature and dynamics of sleeping as one sleeping pattern can directly affect another. This happens throughout the life course with parents in particular. Worries about their children’s whereabouts or safety as Venn and Arber (2008) find are frequently expressed sources of parental concern and sleep disturbance. Especially throughout teenage years with late night phone calls and slamming of doors as they arrive home in the early hours of the morning are all examples of parental sleep disturbance. Sleep in general tends to also disadvantage women more predominantly as they are still the main caregiver of the family and therefore have more opportunities that disturb sleep.
Work too is another key part of the life course and its relations to sleep, which come in the forms of both negative and positive nature. Shifts can affect the way one sleeps and how they perform in their everyday lives. However it has been suggested that perhaps it is not about the quantity of sleep that you are getting but more about the quality. Similarly some people have different views on their need to sleep and the meanings they attach to having a good night’s sleep. Whilst it may be important for some to get the hours they feel necessary others may feel they only need a certain amount to perform in a significant way.
Therefore as suggested in this blog entry it is shown that sleep is affected by numerous social factors from early childhood to later life. This lack of sleep adds to the increasing worry about the lack of sleep and how it is affecting the general running of society as a whole. This lack of sleep is now beginning to fuel a whole new commodity with the countless medicines and enablers to help you sleep.
Is sleep a bygone of human beings?
Sleep has always been a fundamental part of the human existence. Medically we can see that a serious lack of sleep can lead us to have hallucinations and according to the article by Browne it also increase the risk of ‘strokes, obesity, depression and even cancer’ (Browne, 2000). Sleep however is becoming something entirely new in our modern society. Sleep is now something that can be easily avoided. We have everlasting internet and eternal light. Psychologically speaking, serotonin and melatonin are the drugs released by our body in order to get us to sleep and wake us up. Serotonin is what controls our sleep cycle, along with our anger, mood and hunger amongst many other things. Looking at the sleep cycle alone however, the products we use every day and also at night will affect this serotonin production. For example light has now been found to the best way to produce serotonin so when we are lying in bed with our laptops in front of our eyes and the T.V. on in the corner. Our body is naturally on a biological level not producing the drugs we need in order to fall asleep or even feel tired. Secondly is how our lives have changed socially not just technologically. We as a young generation have Pubs, Clubs, Bars, Cinemas, Restaurants and thousands of other activities we can do which is deemed to be ‘past our bed times’ when they open and when we should be waking when they close. All of which entertain us enough for our bodies to again not release the necessary drugs in order to ‘get some rest’ .
It seems now in our society and especially at our age that you gain the ability to stay awake for countless hours and nothing happen to you other than a few yawns in the third class or lecture the following morning. Personally up until the age of about 10 I had to be in bed by 9pm no questions asked. However when I was 15 this time moved up to 10pm and even then it was vague and poorly policed by my parents. At this age I also had a T.V. and laptop in my room which only meant that sleep would not necessarily happen at 10 but I would just be in my room at 10 and awake until 12. The point I am making here is that, in our modern society, something is happening 24 hours a day 7 days a week. We can easily entertain ourselves on the internet or out and about for long enough meaning that we are awake when we are meant to be sleeping. This means by the time we feel like sleep should be occurring or at least approaching, it can be as early as 7am and for someone who has work or lectures at 8 or 9, what’s the point in going to sleep? This cycle then continues until we inevitably collapse.
This then is the answer to the question of ‘is sleep a bygone of human beings?’ in this late modern society, sleep is seen to be less of a necessity and more of a treat. There are a million and one things that people could be doing rather than sleeping, things that were simply not around in past societies. However we are entirely to blame, we the individual and us in the collective society. We all communicate until the early hours of the morning because that is when everyone is online to chat. We all go to the clubs and stay until the end because that’s when everyone else went home and no one wants to miss a story or joke. The reality is however that because our bodies biologically need sleep we will all one day soon crash. We get a cold due to our low immune levels, we are all at higher risk of serious later health issues and even reports show that 45,000 Britons were killed or injured on our roads all due to tiredness.
In conclusion then, in modern society, sleep has never been easier to avoid then now. Giddens and Habermas both speak about our need for agency, our need to justify our choices and we all (I think) justify our choices to stay up to early hours because ‘so and so’ was online or a certain DJ was playing at a club or the very familiar deadline day and ‘pulling an all nighter’ in order to get it finished. To finally answer the question then. Sleep has always and will always be essential to the human body, it mends us and literally keeps us sane, however there are more and more ways of avoiding it from bright computers and late night T.V. to red bull and other forms of caffeine which will keep you awake despite every part of you wanting to sleep. It is not a bygone of human being however it is becoming less and less obvious in our society and if we do not force it upon ourselves, we will have to get use to hallucinations, colds, flu and headaches as well as expect the much more serious risk of cancers, strokes and heart failure when we are older.