David Perry, May 12, 2017
HIGH POINT – Can we blame Thomas Edison for today’s epidemic of sleeplessness?
That’s an interesting question, says well-known sleep educator Dr. James Maas. The short answer: Sort of.
Maas reflected on the lessons of Edison, and the successes of today’s elite athletes, in a wide-ranging interview the other day in the Paramount showroom here. He is a spokesman for the Norfolk, Va.-based bedding producer, making appearances for the company and working with Paramount on bedding designs.
In his more than four decades of sleep research, Maas has seen a disturbing trend: Americans are getting a lot less sleep than now than they were in the past.
In “Power Sleep,” the first of his four books, he goes back into time to find the roots of the problem.
“Before Thomas Edison’s invention of the electric light in 1879,” Maas wrote, “most people slept ten hours each night, a duration we’ve just recently discovered is ideal for optimal performance. When activity no longer was limited by the day’s natural light, sleep habits changed. Over the next century we gradually reduced our total nightly sleep time by 20%, to eight hours per night.
“But that’s not nearly the end of the story,” Maas continued. “Recent studies indicate that Americans now average seven hours per night, approximately two and a half hours less than ideal. Amazingly, and foolishly, one third of our population is sleeping less than six hours each night. Are we losing our minds?”
Part of the problem, Maas notes, is the notion that sleep is a waste of time, a piece of fiction as firmly rooted in the past – yes, Edison held that view – as in the present, with Donald Trump saying that sleeping more than four hours a night wastes time that he can put to more productive uses.
Maas says that Edison, who called sleep “a deplorable regression to the primitive state of caveman,” slept only three or four hours a night, but was fond of naps, an indication he wasn’t sleeping enough at night.
And he turned a famous quote of Edison – “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” – on its head. If he was well rested, maybe Edison would not have had 10,000 failures, Maas said. Maybe he would have had only 5,000, or only 1,000. Maybe he would have found what worked much more quickly.
Similarly, Donald Trump, for all of his success, would probably have even more successes with more sleep, Maas said.
That’s the formula Maas is deploying in his newest book, “Sleep to Win,” in which he and co-author Haley Davis bring the science of sleep to sports. Their message that sleep is a vital part of an athlete’s training regime is one that a growing number of professional and collegiate athletes are taking to heart.
“Despite significant research showing the performance-enhancing effects of better sleep habits, athletes and coaches at every level continue to ignore it,” Maas writes in his book. He says the athletes are overlooking “the most basic yet effective performance enhancer of all, and that is simply getting the right amount and type of sleep.”
For all of his successes in elevating the importance of sleep, Maas still has plenty of work to do.