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Gen Zzzleepless and the Need for Radical Change

  • Features

By Anon Yu Henriksen, BA International Relations and Korean

As the weather is getting colder, the days shorter, and the workload heavier, many students are facing a reoccurring life issue: sleep problems.

Fear not, you are probably not the only one who has involuntarily gone a night without shutting your eyes, and you are definitely not the only one who struggles with falling asleep. According to the NHS, 64% of people aged 17 to 23 years had a problem with sleep three or more times in the prevailing week.

Further numbers from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine show that 93% of Gen Z have lost sleep specifically because of social media. It might not come as a surprise that the inexhaustible, ever-available, and highly entertaining universe we carry in our pockets keeps us awake. Terms like ‘doom scrolling’ and ‘sleep procrastination’ have become everyday terms. Perhaps Marx’s famous dictum could provide some answers to why this has happened. It is no longer ‘religion’, but rather social media, that is the ‘opium of the people’. In fact, how can we not seek opium while living in a world coloured by widespread general anxiety, a high-pressure professional sphere, environmental collapse, economic instability, and violent settler colonialism? The world is dominated by havoc and uncertainty, as well as by multinational companies acting as the opium dealer. They present a solution that, similar to both opium and religion, numbs the pain and creates addiction.

Not only is the state of the world making us addicted to social media. For many, it is also a personal issue; after a long day of constantly trying to fulfil others’ needs, it is liberating to resort to the opium of scrolling. The fact that many only find time for themselves at night, is illustrative of our culture where we constantly perform. It is of course not a problem that we wish to have some alone time. What is problematic is that this happens through tools that are intended to addict us at the expense of our sleep.

The problem with social media is not only that we use it to distract ourselves from our personal and societal anxieties. Social media is not a neutral space, but products made by profit-driven companies. When googling ‘how to fix sleep issues,’ one is met with a wall of individual solutions. Yet, it is not our individual fault that multinational companies and the current societal structure force us onto platforms that are specifically designed to keep us online, and therefore, also awake. Sleep deprivation is positive when seen from Silicon Valley. Whereas adults throughout our lives have typically forced us to sleep, they are now finding intricate ways to restrict our sleep, all in the name of profit. 

It is not a coincidence that we are captured by social media for hours on end at bedtime; the digital world is open 24/7. However, two different digital worlds exist – one of the day and one of the night. During the day we are kept busy by answering texts, reading emails, and sending our entire For You pages to our friends. At night, however, one is completely left to oneself. Social media at night is one of the only low-stress environments that has survived neoliberalism. At night, you may finally consume content, completely undisturbed. 

This focus on Gen Z is not meant as a disregard for other generations and their sleep issues. Sleep deprivation is probably as old as human existence. Greek, Roman, and Hindu mythology all have divinities of sleep. However, there is a point to be made about our current society and its hostility to sleep. To grow up in the attention economy, must be unhealthier than watching it develop during adult life, as the older generations have. While your grandmother might fall asleep after peacefully reading a book, as she always has done, our nightly routine includes instead a conglomeration of Henry Cavill thirst traps, recorded war crimes, and Lana Del Rey edits. It does not take a sleep specialist to understand who will have the best night of sleep.

“This is not an issue of the single individual, but rather one of Silicon Valley”

The next time your parents shame you for staying up all night to thoughtlessly scroll, remember that this is not an issue of the single individual, but rather one of Silicon Valley. Responsibility should not be put onto the sleep-deprived person, but rather onto those defending the status quo of the neoliberal society. The current lifestyle of many Gen Z-ers should prove that we firmly need radical change.

(Photo Credits: Elizabeth Lies)

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