The 9 to 5 Shift as “Torture”


The idea that work inhibits our sleep is something I’ve touched on before but it’s good to see one of the experts involved in sleep discuss this as well. Dr. Paul Kelly has spoken up specifically about the harms that waking up at 9 AM has done to our bodies and our overall health:

This is a huge society issue,” Dr Kelley told the British Science a Festival in Bradford. “Staff should start at 10am. You don’t get back to (the 9am) starting point till 55. Staff are usually sleep-deprived. We’ve got a sleep-deprived society.

It is hugely damaging on the body’s systems because you are affecting physical, emotional and performance systems in the body.

Your liver and your heart have different patterns and you’re asking them to shift two or three hours. This is an international issue. Everybody is suffering and they don’t have to.

We cannot change out 24-hour rhythms. You cannot learn to get up at a certain time. Your body will be attuned to sunlight and you’re not conscious of it because it reports to hypothalamus, not sight.

Staff should start work at 10am to avoid ‘torture’ of sleep deprivation.

Speaking for myself, I’d rather people not start at any given time but at least we have even more evidence that work is not only morally but physically injurious to many workers. Of course, not everyone works the 9-5 shift and those who can work second shifts and overnight shifts may be in a healthier position. I’d be interested to see some numbers there.

But being in a healthier place with regards to your body doesn’t mean that work becomes any less inherently dull, repetitive and ultimately meaningless. You’re still dealing with the same bosses, the same economic and political system and overall  your situation hasn’t dramatically changed.

That said, I don’t have anything against workplaces (or schools) implementing these polices. But I don’t think the focus should be on their ameliorative effects it could have on work but rather the effects it could cumulatively have on our relation to work. For example, introducing more and more of these sorts of reforms will only further distance ourselves from the exploitative practices of state-capitalism and allow us a better life that is outside of it.

Policy changes like this one (when they are actually implemented) are marginal steps in the right direction but they don’t count as much a some think. On the other hand, it’s surely a good thing that these sorts of measures are being treated as more of a common sense measure. And not only that but many media platforms that are somewhat mainstream are also advocating these ideas, granted for the sake of bettering work and our own bettering only being a side-note.

One hope I’d have from more mainstream coverage of these topics would be more and more acceptance of the fact that work interferes with our lives on very basic levels. It makes us subservient to it and demands us even when we cannot give it what it wants. And the “it” here is mostly backed through the threat of economic or literal starvation via capitalist economics. Some folks argue that the fact you need to “eat or starve” is just a natural part of living, but the way we live is constructed by structures and institutions that dominate in our given society.

State-capitalism for instance makes it very hard to pull ourselves away from applications of our energies we find tiresome or undesirable with regards to obtaining happiness. It’s a system largely based off of people being in debt, either to the government or to giant corporations. And quite often people are in debt to both of these institutions which themselves often overlap in very intentional and malicious ways.

My contention however isn’t that we simply have no choices in our lives because I don’t think the institutions completely dominate our choices in our lives. And besides, if we took away the agency from individuals to such a significant degree I believe it’d be much harder to find moral culpability of any sort with the decisions they make.

And we don’t have to endure such a logical cost because although the institutions in society strongly shape our environments we still very much have an effect on our environment as well. Sometimes we can only do that through marginal efforts or efforts that are hidden from most people besides ourselves and those that are close to us. But in any case we can and do still have control over the individual we see in the mirror.

As the anarchist Voltairine de Cleyre wrote in her proto-existentialist essay The Dominant Idea:

And first, against the accepted formula of modern Materialism, “Men are what circumstances make them,” I set the opposing declaration, “Circumstances are what men make them”; and I contend that both these things are true up to the point where the combating powers are equalized, or one is overthrown.

In other words, my conception of mind, or character, is not that it is a powerless reflection of a momentary condition of stuff and form, but an active modifying agent, reacting on its environment and transforming circumstances, sometimes slightly, sometimes greatly, sometimes, though not often, entirely.

In the event where we can wake up another hour later, we’re still being allowed to do so by our bosses and the larger system. On the other hand it’s a reform that will make our abilities as a modifying agent that much more cogent. If we have more time for ourselves and if our bodies are able to function more effectively, perhaps we can take more time for ourselves as well. Perhaps when we come home we can work on that project we’ve been meaning to do for weeks.

And hitting that snooze button at least one more time never goes out of style.

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