In William Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar," Caesar is suspicious of "lean and hungry" Cassius. The man seems nervous and antsy. Caesar wants "fat, sleek-headed men" about him, men who "sleep well at night."
Now, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine says those fat, sleek-headed men are the ones doing most of the tossing and turning at night.
In short, the academy poses a "chicken and egg" dilemma. People who sleep fewer than six hours a night tend to be obese, smoke more, drink more alcohol and exercise less. But does less sleep cause them to suffer those problems, or do those behaviors drive them toward restless insomnia?
One can imagine the simple solution our sod-busting ancestors would have: "Work more and you'll sleep more." But few things in the modern world divide out so neatly. For instance, people are "wired" these days because the world is wired. Before bedtime they are usually watching television, working on the computer or playing video games. And the tasks people perform during the day are different than the heavy lifting of the 19th century. Nervous perspiration from anxiety and pressure is much different than the hearty sweat people work up after 20 minutes of loading a truck. But that doesn't mean people can quit their stressful jobs and become lumberjacks for a living. People must learn to cope within the range of possibilities. And in America, that often means "artificial sleep" sleep triggered by over-the-counter drugs.
It doesn't need to, however.
As we see it, Americans probably do need to sleep more. They probably, as a whole, also need to live healthier lives. So why not a two-pronged approach? Try to get an extra hour of sleep and at the same time look for ways to cut back on the stress each day and that squinty glare beaming from a "screen" of one ilk or another.
Chances are those old sodbusters had it right. A glass of warm milk about 8 p.m., a relaxing book or pleasant conversation and a nice, dark, comfortable, cool place to sleep go a long way to make people feel good about the world and themselves. And trying to improve the way they live could help in making them feel at ease each night when their heads hit the pillow.