Sleepy Victorians

Another Monday morning has rolled around. Still feeling a little sleepy? Nothing new there.

Stress caused sleeplessness for the Victorians too – but they thought it only afflicted ‘brain-workers’
The Victorian era experienced not only the extraordinary upheavals of the industrial revolution, but also the arrival of gas and then electric lighting, turning night into day. The creation of an international telegraph network similarly revolutionised systems of communication, establishing global connectivity and, for groups such as businessmen, financiers and politicians, a flow of telegrams at all hours.

Such shifts brought new patterns and expectations of work. By the 1860s the twin diseases of modernity – overwork and sleeplessness – became the focus of cultural anxieties. Victorian medical men warned against the dangers of sleeplessness. Drawing on this research, an 1866 article in the Spectator argued that sleeplessness was one of the “most annoying concomitants of civilised life”, but also one of the greatest threats to health:

Any system which really increased the average capacity for sleep would benefit nervous diseases, increase the habitableness of great cities, and probably diminish perceptibly the average of lunacy.

Visualising data on a comfort blanket

Our first child was always a good sleeper, all down to our fantastic parenting skills, or so we thought. Child #2 arrived and we set off with the same routines in mind. She had other ideas, however. She didn’t properly sleep through the night until she was 4. That was a challenge, to say the least. She had her 14th birthday last week: I think we’ve just about caught up with all that missed sleep now.

Here you can see a more normal sleep pattern emerge from the fabric of a baby blanket.

A father transformed data of his son’s first year of sleep into a knitted blanket
As Lee neared completion of the blanket, he shared, “All the disparate pieces felt really fragile but as I seamed it together, wove in loose ends, and removed stitch markers, it felt more and more sturdy. Something that I’d been handling like a delicate bird egg started to just feel like a blanket.”

sleepy-comfort-blankets-1

Feeling sleepy? Have a nap.

Napping
The practice may be winding down in Spain—60% of Spaniards say they never siesta, perhaps because high unemployment means workers want to show their bosses that they’re pulling long hours. But other countries still participate, including Greece, the Philippines, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Nigeria, Italy, and China, where “heads down” time after lunch is considered a constitutional right.

The science of sleep: dreaming, depression, and how REM sleep regulates negative emotions
The more severe the depression, the earlier the first REM begins. Sometimes it starts as early as 45 minutes into sleep. That means these sleepers’ first cycle of NREM sleep amounts to about half the usual length of time. This early REM displaces the initial deep sleep, which is not fully recovered later in the night. This displacement of the first deep sleep is accompanied by an absence of the usual large outflow of growth hormone.

Books and beds

I know I could be accused of wishing the days away, but one of the things I look forward to most each day is being back in bed with a good book at the end of it. For me, reading > bed > sleep. For Danielle Steel, however, books and beds are in completely separate universes.

How the hell has Danielle Steel managed to write 179 books?
Steel releases seven new novels a year—her latest, Blessing in Disguise, is out this week—and she’s at work on five to six new titles at all times. In 1989 Steel was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records for having a book on the New York Times best-seller list for the most consecutive weeks of any author—381, to be exact. To pull it off, she works 20 to 22 hours a day. (A couple times a month, when she feels the crunch, she spends a full 24 hours at her desk.)

Really, though?

Is it possible to work 22-hour days? Danielle Steel says it is the secret of her success
Steel says working up to 22 hours a day is “pretty brutal physically” – but is it even possible? “No, in a nutshell,” says Maryanne Taylor of the Sleep Works. While you could work that long, especially as a one-off, the impact on productivity would make it hardly worthwhile. “The idea that someone could sustain that pattern effectively – work, write, commit things to memory, use their full brain capacity – is just unbelievable to me,” agrees Katie Fischer, another sleep consultant. If Steel was routinely sleeping for up to four hours a night, she would likely be drastically underestimating the negative impact of it, says Alison Gardiner, the founder of the sleep improvement programme Sleepstation. “It’s akin to being drunk.”

Her approach isn’t one others are recommending.

How to write a novel – four fiction writers on Danielle Steel’s insane working day
The only thing I recognise from that brutal regime is the need for copious amounts of tea. For me, a productive day is four hours of writing. Four hours of focused, uninterrupted time at the keyboard. This morning, I wrote for two hours and managed just shy of 1,000 words. Even that is a decent day; a steady day. To wrestle those hours of writing time free, I’m postponing teaching preparation, leaving my marking until the evening, relying on childcare. Most of all, I’m doing my damnedest to ignore emails. When does Steel answer her emails, is what I want to know.

She’s certainly a focused author, though.

Danielle Steel’s surprising secret to success
How do you get things done? By doing. Isn’t that fantastic? It’s the best life hack out there and the one so many of us reject because we believe that there is some other, better secret, like being magical or exceptionally talented. Rather than rely on talent and inspiration, Steel just does the work. Every day. All day.

I liked that “Rather than rely on talent” line.

Wake up! Time for school!

As a parent of teens, this news story caught my eye.

Sleepless no more in Seattle — later school start time pays off for teens
“This study shows a significant improvement in the sleep duration of students, all by delaying school start times so they’re more in line with the natural wake-up times of adolescents,” says senior author Horacio de la Iglesia, a University of Washington researcher and professor of biology. The study also found an improvement in grades and a reduction in tardiness* and absences.

It’s a topic that’s been doing the rounds for years, though, as these articles from just the Guardian show. There are no doubt others.

Major study of teenage sleep patterns aims to assess impact on learning
Pupils to start lessons at 10am in effort to see how neuroscience might improve school performance and exam results [October 2014]

Start school day at 11am to let students sleep in, says expert
Paul Kelley says young people are losing 10 hours’ sleep a week, and calls for 8.30am starts for primary pupils and 10 or 11am for teenagers [September 2015]

Children struggling to concentrate at school due to lack of sleep, MPs told
Sleep deprivation highlighted in inquiry into role of education in preventing mental health problems in children [March 2017]

Sleep-deprived pupils need extra hour in bed, schools warned
Shift school day back by an hour to tackle poor results, anxiety and obesity, say experts [January 2019]

The regularity of these articles suggests a lack of motivation to actuality change the system, with the later start time remaining a ‘nice-to-have’, rather than the ‘must-have’.  But, as that NPR article says,

while only a handful of school districts nationwide have switched to later start times, that is changing “as counties and cities like Seattle make changes and see positive benefit.”

(* ‘Tardiness’ is such a great word. I remember, when I was a university Deputy Registrar, feeling very pleased with myself that I could use that and the term ‘laggards’ in our procedures around coursework submission and so on.)

Asleep at the wheel (kind of)

Who, what, why: What is a micro-sleep?
This sudden head jerk is how people commonly know they’ve had a micro-sleep as the brain doesn’t remember such short naps. “Sleep has to last beyond a minute or two for your brain to remember it,” says Prof Horne, who studied driver tiredness for 10 years. “With micro-sleep, you are just left with a feeling of not knowing if you are coming or going.”

Fight, flight or … snooze?

Why some people respond to stress by falling asleep
“You can be driven to sleep simply by having a lot of emotional memories to process,” says Spencer. It takes sleep to provide the space needed to sift through the days’ experiences, and make permanent those that matter.

Feeling sleepy? Check your Chronotype, you might be suffering from Social Jetlag

chronotypes
From Maria Popova at Brainpickings.org, a wonderful (as ever) review of Internal Time: Chronotypes, Social Jet Lag, and Why You’re So Tired by Till Roenneberg

This myth that early risers are good people and that late risers are lazy has its reasons and merits in rural societies but becomes questionable in a modern 24/7 society. The old moral is so prevalent, however, that it still dominates our beliefs, even in modern times.

Lots to delve in to, including this concept of social jetlag.