The Case of the Disappearing Sleep

In the past few decades, sleep disorders have been on the rise. Most importantly, insomnia symptoms. We cannot seem to sleep.

1380220726_title-page-odysseyTaking into consideration even a broader span of time, say, from 800 B.C. Because, that’s the furthest we could go back to find any mention of sleep. In the epic Greek poem The Odyssey, Homer writes,  “In his first sleep, call up your hardiest cheer“.

It was common to have two sets of sleep back then. People would wake up in the middle of the night, spend some active hours and then go back to sleep. With the introduction of electricity and the 24 hour light exposure, things began to change. Mo’ light = Mo’ productivity. Thus, the rearrangement began and we shifted our sleep towards the end of the day and for lesser and lesser hours.

Some of us saw the culture of the afternoon nap even in our parents’ generation. In India, most of our working parents would come back in the afternoon, have lunch with the family, and take a short trip to snoozeville. But, not much later, our work began to demand mandatory 9-5 presence and our leisure to sleep was taken away.

This also took a hit on our dreams. In Homo Deus, Yuval Noah Harari emphasizes on that particular observation-

41R8ZhhNwHL._SX325_BO1,204,203,200_In addition to smelling and paying attention, we have also been losing our ability to dream. Many cultures believed that what people see and do in their dreams is no less important than what they see and do while awake. Hence people actively developed their ability to dream, to remember dreams and even to control their actions in the dream world, which is known as ‘lucid dreaming’. Experts in lucid dreaming could move about the dream world at will, and claimed they could even travel to higher planes of existence or meet visitors from other worlds. The modern world, in contrast, dismisses dreams as subconscious messages at best, and mental garbage at worst. Consequently, dreams play a much smaller part in our lives, few people actively develop their dreaming skills, and many people claim that they don’t dream at all, or that they cannot remember any of their dreams.

Indeed, in our present world, with increased distractions and lack of time and focus, we are losing out on sleep, and in turn, dreams. The prevalence of Anxiety Disorders have also seen a surge in the past few years and most sleep disorders are seen to have been caused due to anxiety. Maybe our dreams provided us with a safer space to deal with our day-to-day stresses. With our bodies relaxed, we indulged in a simulation of our own psychic work – there is the safety of never dying, yet the adrenaline rush is not undermined when your car flies off the mountain cliff and crashes.

Most of us also grew up to believe that Hypnosis is a mystical concept. Defined by Wikipedia as ‘a state of human consciousness involving focused attention and reduced peripheral awareness and an enhanced capacity to respond to suggestion’, it was an essential tool in the past. Hypnosis has definitely lost its game as a legitimate medical practice and dream interpretation is beginning to lose its appeal.

While it is assumed it doesn’t work, in actuality, it doesn’t work anymore. Both Hypnosis and Dream interpretation had shown some great therapeutic value earlier. But, with the evolution of our mental states, and our own shifts in consciousness, we see the death of the psychological frame which diminishes dreams, disallows hypnosis and disturbs our sleep.

The new mental space is rented out to technology, mathematics and logic, because of the demands of our economic as well as political environment. This is an interesting paradigm shift of the human mind happening right now, within the reach of formal recorded history. Which is better, who is to say?