Sleep Fictions: A Digital Companion


This collection includes all notes related to sleep and electricity, specifically the effect of newfound, widespread electricity on sleep habits and hygiene. 

Also see theme: Kinesis/Stasis.

In his study Dangerously Sleepy (2013), Alan Derickson explains how Thomas Edison embodies efforts to overpower sleep during the Progressive Era: "Edison was perhaps the most famous and widely admired American of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a hybrid celebrity renowned for his imaginative genius and his entrepreneurial acumen. Authority to hold forth on the topic of sleep rested on his well-established personal practices, constituting a sort of heroic wakefulness. A tireless self- promoter whose greatest invention was himself, Edison spent considerable amounts of his own and his staff ’s energy in publicizing the idea that success depended in no small part on staying awake to stay ahead of the technological and economic competition. As the founder of General Electric, he had a vested interest in any wakefulness that sold light bulbs. But beyond that, Edison saw himself as a man on a mission to enlighten American men on his approach to self-advancement through endless work and minimal sleep. To that end, he cooperated with numerous journalists in varied revelatory exercises and exhibitions. Long after his death in 1931, he remained the paragon of modern sleeplessness to legions of journalists, historians, and other commentators. No American has done more to cast sleeplessness in hegemonic terms. None did more to frame the issue as one of a simple choice between productive work and unproductive rest: the wizard stayed up not to play but to create value in the laboratory. 
. . .
Uncritical media attention soared in the wake of Edison’s work on electric lighting. In late 1879, he made the most dazzling individual discovery in this monumental project—finding a durable filament to sustain incandescent light. Unable to rest on his laurels, Edison and his team forged ahead over the course of the following decade to invent and develop for practical application a comprehensive practical system for generating, distributing, and using electric power for illumination. To that end, he and his coworkers repeatedly engaged in marathon work sessions with only minimal rest breaks. These exertions were not kept a secret from curious members of the press, whom Edison continued to host with charming good cheer and apparent modesty. He indicated his preference for working at night and admitted his tendency to become so absorbed in his research that he often kept at it all night. In 1885, Sarah Bolton’s How Success Is Won reported on a sixty-hour sleepless stint of problem solving and conveyed the estimate that the inventor had worked eighteen hours a day for the past ten years. Bolton marveled at Edison’s capacity for nocturnal diligence and his ability to sleep soundly in a chair. She proclaimed him 'the very embodiment of concentration and perseverance.' In 1889, Scientific American published an interview in which Edison claimed that he seldom slept more than four hours a day, a claim that Ladies’ Home Journal and Godey’s Lady’s Book passed along to their readers. This interview also gave a glimpse of the investigator as a stern manager of his nocturnal operations: 'At first the boys had some difficulty in keeping awake, and would go to sleep under stairways and in corners. We employed watchers to bring them out, and in time they got used to it.' Adaptability had already become the watchword in the embryonic stage of industrial research and development" (5-6).


A 2015 study details the negative impact electricity has on human sleep---PDF: 

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