The current overculture is filled with
hair-tousling aphorisms about less sleep, more work. ‘Sleep is for the weak!’
‘You can sleep when you’re dead!’ These aren’t just lighthearted ribs, though.
Over the span of just 70 years, we’ve cut our average sleep time by almost 20%.
This isn’t random—professionals attribute this loss in sleep to a variety of
factors, including increased blue-light absorption, distractions from personal
devices, and even being out of tune with nature’s ebb and flow thanks to
central air and heat. March 15 is National Sleep Day,
but you probably didn’t see an ad for it on your Instagram.
It’s difficult to pin this on just one factor, but what’s certain is that our sleep patterns are shifting, and that might not be a good thing.
Scientists have long drawn a link between sleep and mental health, such that their relationship is codependent. More than 50% of individuals seeking help for mental health-related issues also deal with sleep loss. Some have gone a step further, assessing lack of sleep as a cause, rather than a symptom, of mental illness. Regardless of the diagnosis, it’s clear that sleep and mental health are correlated—both in positive and negative ways.
But another factor is the way that modern work culture has both exacerbated and commodified our lack of sleep. This messaging is related to something called ‘hustle culture,’ which some describe as “the complete abandonment of finding healthy work-life integration.” This culture is defined by words like grind, and phrases like ‘striving and thriving’—and of course, hustle. It describes a particular type of work that never ends; it glorifies working ‘round the clock (on the subway, when you get home, from your bed) and abandoning sleep (‘We run on coffee and sleep deprivation!’ as cutesy, team-building mantra) in the name of constant progress.
But in this equation, it is worth asking who is progressing and ‘thriving,’ and who isn’t. The New York Times recently posed, “Why Are Young People Pretending To Love Work?” The crux of the critique, like most assessments of ‘hustle culture,’ looks at how employers use this language—coupled with appealing ‘perks’ like free coffee, a beer fridge, and a foozeball table!—to keep their workers motivated to work harder, faster, and later.
But this culture has disastrous effects on workers’ mental health. The term ‘Millennial Burnout’ was coined to describe this phenomenon, in which young workers are pushed to their physical, emotional, and mental limits by hustle culture’s demands, which are often disguised as cultivating personal excellence. Many are identifying the dangers in this lifestyle: lack of sleep leading to other mental health disorders, and compensating with accelerants that keep us ‘grinding.’
Poking holes in hustle culture means recognizing that sleep is necessary if we’re going to ‘rise and thrive.’ We can’t truly ‘win all the time’ when we’re working off of one meal a day, four hours sleep, and six coffees; the winner in this equation is the person profiting from our nonstop labouring. So by all means, work hard; do the best work you can do. But don’t give up your sleep. It’s more important than the hustle.