Sociological Speculation: The Sleepless World: One more piece of low hanging fruit?
The Sleepless World: One more piece of low hanging fruit?
Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution is a major proponent of the Great Stagnation thesis: that new innovations are not having the same impact on productivity as those we saw in the previous 150 years. Think of iPads versus electricity and cloud computing versus the railroad. Hence, we can expect to see slowing growth in GDP per capita as future productivity gains will take much more effort to unlock. This week The Economist took up this line of thought with a thorough briefing on the subject that broadly agreed with Cowen, although with some equivocation.
Overall, I think the argument has a lot of merit but there may be at least one more piece of low hanging fruit: a vast reduction in our need for sleep.
The American Time Use survey reports that an average American work day includes 8.8 hours of work and 7.6 hours of sleep. Sleep is the second largest single use of time. However, new drugs such as Modafinil appear to vastly reduce the need for sleep without significant side effects (at least so far). Based on reports from users, it seems that people could realistically cut their sleep requirements to as few as 2.5 hours a night without a decrease in mental acuity. That gives us another 5 hours to distribute over the day.
Workers would probably prefer to allocate the bulk of that extra time to leisure but I doubt employers will let that happen. Let’s make a generous breakdown and give work an extra 3 hours and let workers spend another 2 as they wish. This increases working hours by around 34% and potentially increases leisure time by 80%. This increases the number of hours a worker spends at work from around 1800 hours a year now to about 2,400.