It’s time to admit that Gen Z is right about sleep

For Gen Z women, the payoff is simple: They view sleep as having the single highest impact on improving their overall health. And they’re building community around it.

Sacrificing sleep has become a dangerous way of life. Yet, in workplaces and on TikTok, Gen Z is pushing back.

For years, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead,” has been a cultural mantra shaping our way of life. In fact, it’s so prevalent that it’s the title of countless articles, songs, and even a movie.

The scary truth is that, for many, it’s not just a pithy phrase. Just last month, a former Tesla employee copped to sleeping in his car in a bid to shorten his commute time and be more productive. The sacrifice didn’t stop him from being laid off.

Generation Z has taken note of the thanklessness of it all and is saying “no” to sleep deprivation. We’d be wise to take a page from their book and kiss this cultural mindset goodbye.

Our cultural fixation on sacrificing sleep is killing us

One in three adults in the U.S. report not getting enough sleep. In fact, we’re collectively so tired that 40% of adults report unintentionally falling asleep at least once a month—as if their bodies are begging them to rest.

What gives? We’re living in a culture that’s long glamorized sleeplessness, and views rest  in direct conflict with living and getting ahead.

Case in point: in Bon Jovi’s “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead,” he sings, “Until I’m six feet under, baby I don’t need a bed/Gonna live when I’m alive, I’ll sleep when I’m dead.”

The lyrics reflect cultural attitudes that reward the most productive people—from those attempting to rise through the corporate ranks to thrill-seekers chasing adventure—and position sleep as a threat to that way of life. These attitudes didn’t appear out of thin air. Rather, they are the result of centuries-long campaigns that harken back to the Industrial Revolution.

Burning the midnight oil

In the preindustrial age, “segmented sleep” was a common practice. People were encouraged to take their “first sleep,” wake up for an hour of pause and reflection, and return to bed for their “second sleep.” It placed an emphasis on finding true rest and relaxation, and elevating one’s consciousness—a ritual of sorts.

Enter the Industrial Age and the advent of gas lighting, and the ritual was quickly replaced with the routine of “burning the midnight oil.” Factories could remain open later, artificial lighting made dawn’s arrival less important, and the combined impact was an increased focus on achieving maximum productivity.

The result? Sleep became a secondary need. But it’s not—in fact, it’s anything but.

Sleep is the foundation of our health. When we don’t give our bodies adequate rest, we become more vulnerable to a broad range of health conditions like cardiovascular disease, depression, and dementia. For women (and women of color, especially), the risks are even higher. In fact, 59% of women are at risk of early mortality because of their struggles with falling and staying asleep.

Decades of clinical research paint a convincing picture: the best-case scenario of poor sleep is waking up groggy and enduring a headache throughout the day; the worst case is an early grave. With all of poor sleep’s impacts on physical and mental well-being, it’s no wonder that by the end of the song, Bon Jovi sings, “I feel like I’m exploding, going out of my head.”

Gen Z embraces sleep

When we consider the Bon Jovi of it all, it’s unsurprising that Baby Boomers and one in three adults in the U.S. report not getting enough sleep. Generation Xers are the most frequent victims of the dangerous cultural mindset. In fact, Gen X is the most sleep-deprived of any generation in history. To that end, 43% of Gen Xers and baby boomers report they aren’t satisfied with the quality of their sleep, yet are less likely to try tools that can help improve it.

While Gen Z has a reputation as a raucous generation, recent data paints a different picture. Earlier this year, one study inspired a viral WSJ headline, “The Hottest New Bedtime for 20-Somethings Is 9 p.m.”

This early bedtime trend is a reflection of Gen Z placing a high priority on sleep improvement (63%)—especially in light of data that shows sleep leads to improved mental well-being, enhanced social connections, and boosted productivity. For most, this prioritization also means bucking the convention of “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” amid higher rates of corporate burnout. We view it through the lens of the evolving generational dynamic in professional settings.

While late-night working sessions or meetings that resulted in sleepless nights were once a sign of valor, they’ve now become trade-offs. Gen Z will take the meeting, sure, but they’re far more likely than their predecessors to set boundaries around their schedules in the following days.

For Gen Z women especially, the payoff is simple: They view sleep as having the single highest impact on improving their overall health. And they’re building community around it. From sharing a recipe for “the sleepy girl mocktail” to encouraging “bed rotting”—a radical diversion from “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” that normalizes rest as a form of self-care—Gen Z women are taking to TikTok to encourage others to prioritize rest and sleep.

The mass prioritization of sleep is a remarkable shift in culture for a generation who grew up on the internet—one of the largest challenges to actually getting sleep. It’s time that other generations follow their lead.

There’s no place for a generational divide in sleep

It goes without saying that prioritizing sleep may be easier for Gen Z than older generations navigating the responsibilities of more tenured careers, raising families, taking care of parents, and more.

It doesn’t change the simple truth, though: The rest of us can learn from how they unapologetically embrace the importance of sleep. Because building a culture around “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” serves no one—it makes us less productive—and even more lonely.

It’s no coincidence that one of us is Gen X and one of us is Gen Z. It will take all of us to reset the cultural mindset, from employers promoting healthy work-life balance and policymakers supporting sleep research and public health campaigns to friends and family supporting each others’ needs.

And, of course, it requires us to take action in our own lives. For some, it might mean breaking the habit of overextending ourselves in our social lives; for others, it may require developing a healthier relationship with technology and finding practical solutions for limiting screen time before bed.

When we all make these changes—as small or big as they may be—and collectively work to change the cultural mindset around sleep, there’s no limit to the ways we can improve our quality of life—and build a healthier, more well-functioning world.

Source: https://www.fastcompany.com/91119990/where-the-human-brain-still-has-an-edge-over-ai