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  • Arts & Culture
  • Issue 40

Sleep No More

The quest to conquer sleep.
Words by Harry Harris. Photograph by ZhongLin.

We are sleeping less than ever. In 2018, researchers from Ball State University looked at data from over 150,000 adults between 2010 and 2018 and found that the prevalence of “inadequate” sleep—defined as seven hours or less—had risen from 30.9% to 35.6%. Since the industrial revolution, the typical working day has been divided into three equal parts: work, free time and sleep. As we have become more connected, our lives more fast-paced, sleep is the sacrificial third.  

Could this be the beginning of the end, not just for the eight-hour workday, but for sleep as the great unifier? For years, armed forces have experimented with drugging their soldiers to keep them awake—from British soldiers mainlining tea in World War I to Americans in Vietnam consuming so-called “pep pills, ” generally the amphetamine Dexedrine. More recently, a drug called modafinil has been experimented with by armies in India, China, South Korea, France, the UK and the US.

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