Monday, April 4, 2011

Sleep Deprivation

A hundred years or so ago, electric lighting became available to the general public, so people could stay up late and read. Later, radio was invented, and people could stay up late and listen to it. Fifty years ago, there was television, so people could stay up late and watch TV. Thirty years ago, the first computers and video games were in peoples homes, and they could stay up late and do extra work or play with computer games. Soon, cable TV and the videotape made TV available 24 hours a day. Now there is the Internet and smartphones.

Each of these advancements affected the population differently. Initially, many people had no electric lights until even 40 years ago. There are still places where there are no electric utilities. Plus, literacy rates were lower. As electrification spread, more people could stay up late reading. When TV was first available, only those who could afford TV's would stay up late with them. Plus, they went off at midnight, until cable TV changed that. Video games and home computers didn't affect as many people at first, but as prices went down and more people could afford them, more people could stay up late with their games.

The interconnecting of computers and smartphones has opened new vistas. Not only can you stay up late surfing the 'net, you can interact with other people in real time. You can chat, e-mail, and update your status on social network sites. The number of connected people has expanded to cover nearly everyone. The opportunities are endless... but time is not. Even though computers are faster and broadband is faster and there are 3, 4 and 5g networks, the number of ways you can use the speed has expanded exponentially. There are so many things to do that there is no way to keep up. Something has to give.

That something is sleep. You get up at a certain time, go to work or school, and at the end of the day, return home and get on the internet. Next thing you know, it is 2:00 AM! Countless young people, armed with game consoles, computers and smartphones, are connecting to online games, chat systems, social networking sites and email servers. They update their status, chat with each other, send pictures, write on virtual walls, send emails to each other, and look at what their friends are doing. For every minute they spend creating their content, they need to spend that much time for each of their friends. Statistics show that people who network with friends on the Internet have upwards of 100 friends. That means they have to check up on 100 people every day. They frequently don't go to bed until the very early morning.

I believe that a most young people are not getting enough sleep. They have too much to do, and not enough time. I'm sure many adults have similar issues, but I think they are more capable of dealing with the problem. They have to go to work to stay employed. They will only go so far on limited sleep before they adjust their computer time to suit their work needs. Otherwise, they join the ranks of the unemployed, who have much more time to attend to social networking, but much less to talk about. Kids, however, usually have a parent or two to keep the household running, so they have a lot more latitude to decide what will give and what will not. Much of the time, it is school that will give. Kids will stay up late until all the other kids have gone to sleep, then they will be late to school the next day. They will be in a bad mood, and get in more trouble. Sleep deprivation makes people testy.

I have seen this, empirically, so I know it to be true. I don't know what the solution is. Parents will need to take control of their children's online time, just as they did their television time in my youth. The trick is to start early, when they are young, and still relatively easy to control. Give them boundaries, and be consistent. Otherwise, they will be staying up late and getting up late well into their twenties. And guess where they will be living?

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