The BBC website reports on a study at Northwestern University, Chicago, in which a group of 40 people were assessed for their levels of sexual and racial bias, and then given "counter-bias training" accompanied by a series of distinctive sounds that were played again at low volume while they enjoyed an afternoon nap. The result was a reduction in their bias scores. Doubtless this experiment has important things to tell us about sleep, learning and cognition; but no less intriguing are the ethical questions it raises about power, manipulation and suggestibility. As one commentator notes, the experiment is uncomfortably reminiscent of the systematic brainwashing of sleeping children in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World.
A piece in the New Republic takes a dim view of CEOs and politicians who brag about being early risers. According to Ryan Kearney, self-congratulatory references to 4am starts are nothing more than acts of "sleep-shaming" that implicitly target those with less punishing sleep schedules.
Frida Berrigan, in The Huffington Post, on sleep as a "fundamental human right."
"Is it unethical to not rouse someone who is sleeping on the subway, and may therefore miss his or her stop? It seems like the proper thing to do, but the person may not want to be woken up". This question was recently posed in the 'Ethicist' section of the New York Times Magazine. The magazine's in-house ethicist, Chuck Klosterman, opens his reply by remarking that "It is difficult to imagine a reasonable situation wherein someone sleeping unintentionally on the subway would not want to be woken up". Comments in a lively follow-up thread cover the danger of antagonizing the sleeper with unwanted attention; perceived differences between subway sleepers in New York and Tokyo (cf our recent post on Sleep on Japanese trains); the ability of some subway sleepers to snap out of sleep as they approach their destination; the potential intrusiveness of public sleepers who snore or slump against fellow passengers; and different etiquettes surrounding sleep on subway as opposed to long-distance trains. One contributor also tells the (possibly apocryphal) story of the heart attack victim whose body was only discovered by transit workers at the end of the shift because his fellow passengers had thought he was simply asleep. All in all, this thread is a valuable reminder of how mass public transport confronts us with something we simply don't encounter in other contexts: the sleep of strangers. It also shows how the ethics of sleep is an area that merits serious further discussion in critical sleep studies. Consider, in this regard, Klosterman's references to the intentions and desires of the sleeper ("someone sleeping unintentionally on the subway would not want to be woken up"). Do sleepers have intentions and desires? If so, can a sleeper be an ethicist? Or should we think of intention, desire -- and ethics -- as belonging exclusively to the conscious, purposive, waking self?
According to recent research by Christopher M. Barnes of the University of Washington, sleep is a "master key for our ability to exert self-control". For Barnes, "self-control is replenished while you sleep", whilst poor sleep "predicts unethical behaviour the next day". Researchers from Florida International University have arrived at similar conclusions in a new study that links poor sleep with "low self-control and delinquency" in teenagers.