Erin Gentry Lamb Associate Professor of Biomedical Humanities & Director, Center for Literature and Medicine, Hiram College (OH)

Co-authored by Cara Constance, Associate Professor of Biology at Hiram College

Some college professors find it frustrating when students fall asleep in class. We actually require it. On the first day of our course on “The Science and Culture of Sleep,” our students must try to take a nap under experimental conditions. The exercise forces them to recognize all of the many different factors—biological, environmental, cultural, interpersonal—that influence when, and where, and how one is able to fall asleep.

Sleep in American society is a complex phenomenon. It is a biological need—Sleep’s timing is driven by our innate circadian rhythms—but the rhythms of modern society heavily determine its role in our lives. And these rhythms—whether about work or school schedules, the realities of working parents, or our capacity for global jetsetting—are often jarringly at odds with our biological sleep needs. The result? In the words of the famous sleep scientist William C. Dement, ours is a “sleep sick society“ wherein many Americans are chronically sleep deprived.

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