By Alina Ostrovsky
The aura of the sunset, with its fading glimmering rays, followed by the sunrise, with its breathtaking sunrays, peek-a-booing at the tip of the horizon, have been the incremental period between which the consciousness of humanity is supposed to be drifted into hours of slumber. That slumbering state is a portal into the dream world that lasts until dawn. At that time, the all-time dutiful rooster blurs out his ‘ku-ku-ri-kuu’ crow with a resounding baritone. Now, that tone has been replaced by the alarm, accustomed to our taste—be it an annoying or a symphonic tune, whichever one does the best job in jolting us up into the state of wakefulness.
The present lifestyle is deprived of life
The alarm wakes us into the ‘caresses’ of our cares and worries that are all included in a to-do list, demanding their accomplishment. After every crossing of an assigned duty from that list, other chores, errands, assignments, projects, meetings, appointments, schedules, events and so on, pile on top of each other mercilessly into a never-ending pandemonium to the point that there is no distinction between a godly and an ungodly hour. Counting sheep and cradling ourselves to sleep by means of what once used to be a ‘Rock-A-By Baby’ lullaby, has become an activity that is perceived by modern standards as overrated and unpopular. Sleep, in the 21st century, started bearing its negative connotations.
Due to the rotation of the Earth with respect to the sun, depending on the longitudinal and latitudinal degree value of our location of existence, our world is divided into compartments of ‘time zones’. While the northern hemisphere sleeps, the southern hemisphere hustles, which adjust our 24-hour circadian rhythm accordingly. It is in this way that our tiny ‘clock’ ticks within almost every cell type in our body. In this context, there is a growing evidence that disassociating our activities from its natural cycle can have long-term health consequences.
Cheating the biological system
People are deceived into thinking they can trick their body to perform their desired set of activities that, in the truth of the matter, prove to be discordant to the needs of their biological clock. With a parent-like discipline, our biological clock sets the ground rules of when our curfews and our bedtime should be taking place. On the other hand, we, being inherently rebellious, defy its rules by choosing to eat, drink, sleep, play and work however and whenever it appears to be convenient for us. However, this behaviour cannot escape its repercussions. To elaborate, the National Sleeping Foundation found that people suppressing their need for sleep are vulnerable to mistakes of deepest regrets, experience dips in attention, manifest delayed reactions conversationally, have a higher propensity to accidents in the workplace and crashes into roadways, while being subdued by reduced productivity by the way of displaying difficulty to communicate.
Appreciating the importance of sleep
In order to appreciate the essence of sleep, one must understand what sleep is. Sleep is defined to be a natural period of a state of rest during which the consciousness of the world is suspended. Some of its essential benefits, critical to maintaining a healthy human existence, are comprised if not realized adequately. Without sleep, our body functions and the composition of it simply decay as if we are laying in our grave slowly dying—the only difference being that we are ‘walking bodies’.
In the understanding of all that’s stated, the “sleep hygiene” movement has fueled into existence to propagandise the importance of sleep. Its proponents point out that bright lights before bedtime and spending the whole day in a dimly lit office can dampen the natural circadian cycle, leaving people in a continual mental twilight—dozy in the morning and too alert to fall asleep at night. Thus, the sleeping cycle of humanity has been interrupted and messed with since the increasing prevalence of artificial illumination, brought forth into invention since the 19th century.
Extensions to workaholism
For all these reasons, sleep deprivation has become a societal epidemic. Most naturally, sleep deprivation propels the gears of a more endemic problem—workaholism. Workaholism is considered to be the “best-dressed” mental health problem. The term ‘workaholism’ was coined by American psychologist Wayne E. Oates in 1968. A ‘workaholic’, by scholarly definition, is considered to be a person whose needs for work have become so excessive that it creates noticeable disturbance or interference with his bodily health, personal happiness, interpersonal relationships, and with his smooth social functioning.
Studying the different elements
There are three elements to workaholism—“work involvement”, “driven” and “work enjoyment”. “Work involvement” happens when between job and other activities that a person is involved with, he doesn’t have much free time. Being “driven” happens when a person finds himself thinking about work, even when he wants to get away from it for a while. “Work enjoyment” is a feeling that a person’s job is more fun than work.
Combinations of “work involvement” and “driven” without “work enjoyment” are the very factors that define a true workaholic, because having no “work enjoyment” leads to physiological and psychological health problems. These individuals are “pushed to work” because they are driven to work by their own degree of obsession—working compulsively. On the other hand, people who have “work enjoyment” along with “work involvement” and/or “driven” components are individuals who are “pulled to work”, being attracted to work by the enjoyment it produces, making the worker “engaged” to his work. Studies have shown that people, with the component of “work enjoyment” even if they work just for as long hours as workaholics, don’t experience physiological and psychological health problems as the workaholics do.
Simon Sinek described this dichotomy as follows: “Working hard for something we don’t care about is called stress; working hard for something we love is called passion”.
Japan presents a glaring example
Japan has the worst culture that promotes sleep deprivation, leading to a vicious lifestyle of workaholism, which threatens the health and the well-being of the Japanese people. It is actually culturally acceptable to be crashing onto the pavement of the street-corners in a prostrate manner, energy depleted to the point that lifting a finger seems to be a burden. The Japanese call those public crashes as “Inemuri”. The word “I” means “to be present” in a situation that is not conducive to sleep like public streets, work conferences, public transportation and so on. The word “nemuri”, in and of itself, means “to sleep”.
To understand the essence of “Inemuri” and its cultural acceptance, one must understand the derivation of its motive. Since the time of Confucianism, the act of early rising and going to bed late was considered to be manifestations of hard work of a ‘virtuous person’. As that virtue is heavily ingrained in the ideals of Japan, “Inemuri” is often allowed in a work-related setting. People dozing off into sleep are valued more than active attentiveness as it is an honourable indication of exhaustion due to work. It is considered to be ‘participation’ since your body is present, even though your mind is far from it, which paradoxically is more admirable than catching up with sleep in a soft bed. Being secluded in the comforts of your mattress is, according to them, manifestations of laziness.
All these counter-productive Japanese values led to what is predominantly known to be as “Karoshi”, death due to overwork. Death from over-work and ceaseless over-time work are closely related to the rise of what in Japan is known as “burkakku kigyou”, loosely translated as “dark companies” or “evil corporations”. One of the victims of such firms, Matsuri Takahashi, committed suicide. In online posts she made before her death, Takahashi lamented:
“When you’re in the office 20 hours a day, you don’t understand what you’re living your life for anymore (It’s so pathetic) you come to laugh—whether I’m working to live or living to work, I don’t know anymore. That’s life.”
After her death, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe supposedly took the over-time issue seriously by capping it to a 100 hours per month. However, it did not seem to occur to him that the goal of the labour standards laws is not to just avoid death but to actually create a better and humane working environment.
A desperate call for balance
Taking all of that into mind, we are a society that is obsessed by achieving success but the constant drive for success makes our life just pass by in the blink of an eye as we forget the value of its precious moments. Therefore, it is best to balance your life the way Lao Tzu had preached:
“In dwelling, live close to the ground. In thinking, keep to the simple. In conflict, be fair and generous. In governing, don’t try to control. In work, do what you enjoy. In family life, be completely present.”
Featured Image Source: Flickr
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