Some time ago it came to my attention that for years the World Health Organization (WHO) has considered sleep disorders and loss to be a public health epidemic. An evil that especially affects hyper-developed societies, where 40% of the population sleeps poorly. Artificial light, temperature regulation, caffeine and alcohol, or working hours would be the main causes; To which, in recent times, situations such as anxiety or depression derived from growing precariousness have been added.
So curiosity got the better of me and I decided to delve into the biological importance of sleep and how its absence affects us. I went to the book Why do we sleep? by Matthew Walker, one of the most reputable sleep scientists, who edited Captain Swing a while ago. Summing up a lot, we could say that not getting enough sleep implies a deterioration in cognitive functions.
Memory and learning are affected because during sleep the memories are distilled, passing these from short to long memory term, so that those that may be useful or significant are protected so that they are available. So a lack of sleep implies difficulties in generating new learning and the facility to forget new information sooner.
Not sleeping also erodes creativity because during REM sleep our brain builds connections between distant information elements, in a way that we would never rationally do in a waking state. Past and future are not differentiated or many of the rules that govern our daily lives are suspended. The display of this hyperassociative capacity is a source of inspiration for the development of creativity. Consulting things with the pillow is more than a saying, it recognizes the potential of sleep to find solutions to the problems that concern us.
The absence of a quality sleep affects the coupling between the cerebral hemispheres, encouraging an imbalance between emotion / reason. Some experiments show how difficult it is for us to accurately distinguish emotions on people’s faces or to read the social environment around us in a balanced way.
And finally, sleep is essential for the body’s biophysical repair, but also psychological. Sleep provides a form of nocturnal therapy, reducing the anguish of daytime episodes and painful memories, allowing for emotional restoration when we wake up the next day. Rosalind Cartwright from the University of Chicago studied the dreams of people with depression due to emotional wounds (divorces, breakups, deaths …). Those patients who expressly dreamed of their painful or traumatic experiences were able to recovermentally and no longer had clinical features of depression.
We should not be surprised by the paradox of a society that spends more time without sleep but is less and less awake, with a deficit of attention towards substantial problems and a sick obsession with the superficial. We invent surprising alarm clocks, like the one that shreds a bill if you don’t get up quickly enough to unplug it, in an effort to gain waking time to be productive, while at the same time we are invaded by the feeling that we are wasting time.
Insomnia and nightmares are suffered individually but they would also tell us about our difficulty in having shared dreams. An epidemic is never a mere aggregation of individual problems but something that we must tackle together. And it is surprising how what deteriorates the sleep deficit, coincides with skills and capacities that we need as a society to take charge of the ecosocial crisis.
It is still logical that a society that sacrifices the individual dream ends up giving up dreaming collectively. We need to vindicate the importance that the construction of images and hopeful stories about the future plays in any transformation project. Imagine visions of how we could feed, inhabit, move, build, educate or care in an alternative way, as it is the only way we have to face this culture prone to monoculture dystopia. The present with all its imperfections ends up being a consolation, preferable to the sample of catastrophic future worlds that they imagine for us, as Francisco Martorell very well denounces in his recent book Against dystopia, edited by La Caja Books.
Now that there is so much talk about creative environments in the company, we probably need the same in social movements, to provide ourselves with time, spaces and methodologies to dream together. The absence of a utopian impulse in the public sphere reinforces the erosion of creativity and political imagination. One of the ways to simultaneously conspire against the inevitability of catastrophe and the mirages of technological illusionism involves democratizing the process of making images and stories about tomorrow, having more views and making them more plural. Let’s talk, debate and shape futures where our societies have been able to adjust to ecological limits while maintaining decent levels of quality of life. It is urgent to socialize alternative future scenarios, sketch post-capitalist societies and create powerful images capable of stimulating social and institutional experimentalism.
We also need the mmemory and the possibility of learning from the past, both from previous crises and citizen responses, as well as from past social struggles. The future is what is about to happen based on what has happened to us, so by actively worrying about tomorrow we look for inspiration in what happened yesterday, which helps us to reinterpret the present and project alternatives.
Collective dreams can help us forge a necessary balance between the rational and the emotional. Realistically assume the gravity, urgency and historical discontinuity posed by our realityclimatic limits, the biophysical limits and the deterioration caused in the ecosystems on which life is sustained; at the same time that we act being aware that our lack is not more refined diagnoses but rather having hopeful stories. Narratives alone do not change reality, but without them we will not mobilize the desire and anger necessary to take action.
Social depression is not only the excessive presence of negative feelings and affects, but especially the absence of positive emotions and pleasant experiences. Daydreaming and in a group will help us to restore ourselves emotionally, it will improve our collective self-esteem and will offer us communication tools with greater power of seduction.
Existential precariousness and eco-anxiety share the anguish at the difficulty of projecting our life in time. We need a horizon for the future, what allows us to rest today is knowing that there is a tomorrow. History teaches us that many transformations that were initially perceived as impossible, when a sufficient critical mass makes them their own, turn into realities that are perceived as inevitable. The first step is always to imagine them. Dreams against nightmares.