It turns out sleeping is a scam — or at least the way most Americans sleep.
TikToker Robyn is a self-professed sleep expert. She answered a prompt from another user who asked, “What’s a scam that’s become so normalized that we don’t even realize it’s a scam anymore?” Robyn then dropped some knowledge about how people in the U.S. have got sleep seriously wrong.
Robyn connected our eight-hour sleep cycle to capitalism and the Industrial Revolution.
“We didn’t actually use to abide by the eight-hour sleeping schedule,” she explained. “We used to have two sleeps; they were called first sleep and second sleep.”
People would wake up early, get work done, take a nap, then resume the day refreshed. Countries like Spain, Taiwan and Greece still practice siestas or midday naps.
When 19th-century workers in labor movements mobilized against exploitation from their bosses, they had a clear demand: “Eight hours labor, eight hours recreation, eight hours rest.”
This divided the day into three equal parts as an alternative to working 12 to 14 hours a day (six days a week). The eight-hour sleep cycle was thus a worker’s compromise with capitalism. In 1940, the Fair Labor Standards Act officially limited the workweek to 40 hours.
But Americans today know that their bosses have found ways around those legal limitations with contract workers, temps, freelancers and salaried workers.
According to an international study by Rand Corporation, overworking people to the point of sleep deprivation has the reverse effect of greater productivity and profits. Ultimately, the effects of sleep deprivation result in the U.S. losing the equivalent of 1.2 million working days per year or roughly $411 billion in GDP. In fact, much of recent data suggests that America might be the “most overworked developed nation in the world.”
“The 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. working system we have in our capitalistic society has made it so that we don’t effectively get as much sleep as we need,” Robyn said.