America’s Sleep Culture is Broken — and What We Can Do About It

Ryan Bohl
4 min readApr 16, 2019

We need to change our work culture’s hero-worshipping of ‘early to rise’

1 in 3 Americans don’t get enough sleep. Lack of sleep causes a myriad of health problems — and yet in the United States, work and education cultures keep rewarding those who pull all-nighters, wake up at the unnatural crack of down, and operate on 4–6 hours of sleep a night.

In education, schools are scheduled so early they impact student development. In work, employers sing the praises of those who start the day first. At parties, friends will talk about how little sleep they’re getting as a mark of resilience and value, while our entrepreneurs sell us how-to guides to maximize our sleep value by engaging in bizarre nocturnal rituals so we can work even more.

Certainly, in a world in which productivity is measured less and less by actually making physical things and more and more by creating value, the manageable measure of who is sleeping the least is a simple way to gauge who is working “hardest” — and is consequently the most valuable. As your co-worker strides in ten minutes after you, surely you occasionally feel a flutter of pride knowing you got there first. And as a student, doubtless, you rolled up to school bleary-eyed but feeling accomplished for having stayed up well past your normal bedtime completing some project or studying for a test.

These points of pride are reinforced by managers and business leaders who praise late nights, early mornings, and short stints asleep. Yet employees enable this just as readily: many will jostle one another on Gchat well after hours to touch base on a project, while shared docs give employees a reason to stay on later so their cursor can be seen moving and their colleagues can feel like everyone is working equally “hard” by giving up precious nighttime hours.

There’s no war, no great shortage that we must all be putting in extra hours to overcome. But we let ourselves do this anyway. And yet, even as we do, we have in our possession a means to take back the culture of sleep.

Here’s how.

Talk to your fellow employees or students

Ryan Bohl

Not hot takes on history, culture, geopolitics, politics, and occasional ghost stories. Please love me. (See also