July 25, 2011

Sleeplessness and the Art of Forced Evolution

Why do we need to sleep, anyhow?

Why can't we be more like the _____________ (Insert your personally preferred highly evolved science fiction race here who have moved past needing to rest, thus becoming the most productive and technologically advanced culture in the universe)?

I recently heard someone on NPR radio talking about human evolution and floating a theory about American obesity. The theory went like this:

Millenia ago, when we were still foraging and hunting fiercely for our food--and largley living without what we needed nutritionally--our bodies adapted to the environment at that time. Today, we live a much easier lifestyle (duh) where food is readily available and we use our brains more on a day to day basis(allegedly--many serial TV watchers bring that curve down...) than our bodies. Soooo....

The NPR theorizer postulated that, temporarily, our bodies are reacting badly to this new environment instead of adapting to it, with negative things like high blood pressure, diabetes, etc., but eventually we are supposed to evolve to match the new surroundings.

It is a possibility that this man could have been really going out of his way to justify eating three meals a day at MacDonald's, but let's entertain his idea for a minute. If this could be so, that we really could become a race of people who can eat 100grams of fat and sugar per day and metabolize it just fine, then what about other issues like sleeping?

In our country, we value productivity and hard work. Yes,  we are a capitalisitc society and there are many negative factors that come with that, too, but let's focus on this in a neutral way for a minute. If speed and productivity are thought to be something akin to character virtues, and we Americans are so willing to sacrifice our sleep for them, why do we still need it?

All the time we hear about how the average person lives daily on about five hours of sleep, or something, and then we are encouraged to really try for eight hours instead.  Maybe we shouldn't worry so much about how much sleep we are missing. How about if, instead, we protest, forcing evolution to hurry up by sleeping less, not more.

I accidentally tried this last week by taking a two-year-old camping. She didn't sleep at night for 5 days. One night in particular, she finally slept at 5a.m. Does that make me and other parents of small children anti-sleep pioneers?

It might be interesting to pursue this non-sleep idea further. I heard once on public television that if you went for three days without sleep, you could start hallucinating. Cool! Then, instead of finishing three pairs of socks in that sleepless three day period, it might appear to you that you really knitted like 16. How cool would that be? And how many calories would you get to eat in order to stay up that long? It's a double whammy: helping speed up the evolution of sleeplessness AND sedentary living!

While none of this is really in the realm of possibility--or reality--it is fun to entertain the idea of needing less sleep.

Am I just trying to find a way to catch up on my swatch knitting for Sock Summit by saying that I am not going to sleep for the next two days and justify it while procrastinating right now by writing this blog post? Yes.

Yes I am.

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