Have you noticed how many mattress brands there are now?
There is even a guy who built an empire on a pillow design.
As a nation, it seems we’re obsessed with the accouterments of sleep, all the while getting less and less of it.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about a third of us don’t get enough sleep. The health consequences of long-term sleep deprivation are increasingly well understood (Johns Hopkins Medicine made a cool infographic summarizing some of the nastier ones).
I’ve been a victim of this phenomenon as well, which is probably why I noticed something about my chickens recently that got me thinking about their sleep patterns and what they might have to teach us.
Late to bed, early to rise?
Chickens get up at sunrise and go to sleep at dusk. Year round. Period.
That means in the Summer, when days are super long here in North Florida, my birds sleep between seven and eight hours per night. But in Winter, the nights are 12 to 13 hours long. And the chickens sleep that long.
In other words, they are in perfect sync with the sun and their sleep cycles vary accordingly – less sleep in Summer, more in Winter. Dogs, cats, and most other animals are the same. Heck, bears and other hibernators just snooze through Winter altogether.
We humans long ago left the Serengeti and started civilizations, but we used to “go to bed with the chickens,” along with the sun. When most of us were farmers, there was no point staying up late into the night, because our core tasks required daylight. Hence, we rested more in Winter and worked more in Summer.
There was no such thing as a consistent 8-hour-a-night sleep regimen. Sometimes you slept seven hours, sometimes more than 10. In fact, there is evidence that, before the industrial revolution, we slept in two distinct shifts during the night.
I’m not unveiling a thundering truth here, I know. But don’t you think it is worth trying, as an experiment, to give ourselves permission to go to bed with the sun sometimes, just to see how we feel the next day? How about a few more naps, during the Winter at least?
Sleep = lazy?
I say “permission” because, aside from our beckoning screens, I think there is another reason we force ourselves to stay awake. We don’t want to feel or be thought of as lazy, the cardinal American sin.
Chickens don’t have that hang up, and they aren’t lazy. In fact, they almost never stop working – scratching, pecking, preening, dust bathing – but only during the daylight hours. When the sun goes down, so do they.
We can’t completely rearrange our lives to stop nighttime activity. But maybe curtail it some and hit the hay at 7pm on a Fall evening? What’s the worst that could happen, you miss a few episodes and actually feel good in the morning. For once?