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Electronic Insomnia Part I

June 24, 2011

When Humans and Machines Collide

When human evolution and technology collide billions of us became experimental subjects.  The results include new behaviors, new diseases, and new versions of old disorders.

So prepare now for the future – the new world of  electronic insomnia.

But first a very short look at the past.

We’ve Even Got Electric Lights

In the past nights were really – dark.  As Bill Bryson points out in his highly pleasant book “At Home,” even great cities like London were gloomy night-times caverns until Edison and a host of unsung and generally unremembered scientists came up with functional incandescent lights.

The result was a full, new world – the bright night world of electric light.

The human brain and body has not been the same since.

Your Brain On Continuous Light

The spread of electric lights turned people into fully 24 hour creatures.  Now we could easily stay up all night – and as industrial firms discovered world wide – work.  Some of us wanted to play, too.

Except our bodies never evolved for this change.

Night and day are literally inbuilt into your body – just as they are for every terrestrial life form that ever sees the sun.  Time rules life, and body clocks rule time.  They are why humans:

Sleep at night

Hit peak physical performance in the late afternoon to early evening

Jazz musicians are virtually all owls (night people)

Heart attacks occur most commonly in the morning

Lark and owl marriages hit the skids more often

People hate shift work

You fly across time zones and obtain jet lag

You gain more weigh when you eat at night

And a few thousand other effects…

Now electric lights are cheap, and electronic devices ubiquitous – even in developing countries.

The Present

According to Eve van Cauter of the University of Chicago, Americans have knocked off 90 minutes of sleep in the past 40 years.  Even when people sleep a little less than usual their infection rates go up; their cardiovascular disease rates go up; their rates of depression go up; they get fatter; they can’t remember and learn so well.

Human biological imperatives are particularly neglected by adolescents, whose body clocks make them go to bed later, get up later, and require more sleep than adults.  Telephones, televisions and walkme cassette players allowed previous generations to sleep less and less each night – and more and more during morning classes.  Yet those changes – plus encroaching adolescent obesity and its future budget busting health care costs – may appear incremental compared to what they future will bring.

Except the future arrived some time ago.

The Electronic Future

We’re not cyborgs yet – but many yearn to be.  Present day adolescents are now texting about 2 hours a day, and if present surveys are to be believed, are engaged with electronic media 11 hours a day.

And the media are changing.

Now many adults, according to some surveys a majority, are checking emails before they sleep.  In some industrial surveys, like that of Travelodge, 25-35% of working adults take calls or texts through the night.

The teenagers are way ahead.  Many are texting 50 times a night.

Yet technology moves on.  The Dick Tracy communications wristwatch has been a reality for a while, though it is not yet popularl.  Instead people can surf the net, watch movies, investigate the Cloud, talk, text, sext, listen to French radio, program their television sets and garage doors, pretty much do anything except actively rest – and perform all these actions simultaneously. Faced with a technological future where far more behavior will become monitored and with ever more lifelike electronic entertainments,  will rest stand a chance?

The answer is yes – when people recognize that interrupted sleep is ultimately as much fun as coitus interruptus.

Rest is regeneration.  Active rest, like physical and spiritual rest, can make life a lot more fun, but passive rest, particularly sleep, is as necessary to life as food. Cut out sleep in any group of animals and they die.   Skimp it, and you get sick – with heart disease, low moods and horribly decreased performance.

But at first people will just feel tired and awful and not know why.
Rest, sleep, Sarasota Sleep Doctor, well-being, regeneration, longevity, body clocks, insomnia, sleep disorders, the rest doctor, matthew edlund, the power of rest, the body clock, psychology today, huffington post, redbook, longboat key news

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