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At issue here is our inner life. In a chapter called “The Social Divide,” Duff describes the widening gap between sleep and waking consciousness. She briefly traces the history of the marginalization of not only our own subjective experience, but also the mythologies that once provided its context.
“I was most familiar with Greek mythology,” she explained. “[The Greeks] paid a lot of attention to sleep and dreams and how that material is worked in us. I was surprised to find out how my Eastern philosophical traditions had studied sleep. Three or four thousand years [later], we think we’ve just discovered it. But there’s so much folklore and cultural life passed down from generation to generation. Everything that mothers learn from their mothers to promote sleep [like] lullabies.
“With the Enlightenment we sort of erased our awareness. Darkness became aligned with [what] we were tying to rise above—emotions, feelings. We wanted rational control, and you can’t control sleep. Sleep is one of the ways we return to nature. By responding to alternating phases of light and darkness, we return to our natural cycles, and join with all of life.”
Sleep and health
It’s no news that regular sleep is important to our overall health. In her work as a counsellor, Duff has found increasingly that a good night’s sleep is instrumental—even essential—to our emotional well-being. As part of her intake process, she routinely asks her clients how they are sleeping.
“Once they got more sleep,” she said, “their issues became more manageable. Even bipolar disorder and major depression are often preceded by six months of sleep problems.”
On the other hand, as she states in the book, the “effects of sleep disruption on mood, perception, and behavior are so strong” physicians sometimes misdiagnose patients as having psychiatric disorders when those patients “simply need better sleep.”
Along with diagnoses come medications. In a chapter on the commercialization of sleep, Duff notes: “The use of sleeping pills among adults between twenty and forty-five doubled between 2000 and 2004. In 2011, 60 million Americans filled prescriptions for sleep medications, up from 46 million in 2006.”
Statistics that I find deeply disturbing.
The problem is not so much the amount of sleep we get or how we get it, as it is our relationship with sleep.
“We want to commodify it,” said Duff. “[We want sleep to] help our days be better rather than offering its own vantage point. It’s about productivity. We keep going over the day’s events, but we process them with a different mind, much more associative, which works more by Gestalt. That’s why people will come up with solutions [when they’re asleep]. It’s non-conscious processing, which goes on when we’re awake as well. But we don’t pay attention to that either.”
Duff points out that the problem isn’t with science, but with “scientism”. She is glad that scientists are paying attention to sleep and making serious studies, but she worries about them “jumping on the bandwagon of making money—selling us machines and pills.”
She encourages us to take back our sleep, which she likens to a “n