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DOI: 10.1177/0038038508088839
2008 42: 541 Sociology
Sharon Boden, Simon J. Williams, Clive Seale, Pam Lowe and Deborah Lynn Steinberg
The Social Construction of Sleep and Work in the British Print News Media

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The Social Construction of Sleep and Work in
the British Print News Media
Sharon Boden
Keele University
Simon J.Williams
University of Warwick
Clive Seale
Brunel University
Pam Lowe
Aston University
Deborah Lynn Steinberg
University of Warwick
ABSTRACT
This article presents a sociological study of sleep issues in the British print news
media, with particular focus on the relationship between sleep, work and the chang-
ing demands of flexible capitalism. Drawing on over 1000 newspaper articles from
1984 to 2005, we explore how and why sleep is framed or constructed in terms of
continuity and change (in British working life and work cultures) and, equally, viewed
as a neglected component of our social lives which is too easily sacrificed to the
demands of the 24/7 society, long hours culture and the struggle to create a har-
monious work-life balance. This is particularly the case for certain British work cul-
tures in which sleep has conflicting and contrasting associations. Finally, we reflect on
the broader class-based discourses and debates that arise from certain workers hav-
ing their sleep patterns increasingly scrutinized and regulated, and the role of the
media in any ensuing sleep/work crisis.
KEY WORDS
24/7 society / flexible capitalism / media / sleep / work / work cultures / work-life
balance
541
Soci ol ogy
Copyright 2008
BSA Publications Ltd
Volume 42(3): 541558
DOI: 10.1177/0038038508088839
SAGE Publications
Los Angeles, London,
New Delhi and Singapore
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Introduction
T
he mass media have long been recognized as an important influence and
resource in contemporary life, with respect to constructing cultural com-
monsenses, reflecting and shaping social realities and providing a forum for
the articulation not just of mainstream ideologies but of alternative viewpoints
and cultures of resistance. Studying the media has thus provided fruitful territory
for sociologists interested in topics as diverse as health (Seale, 2003), crime (Kidd-
Hewitt and Osborne, 1995), sexuality (Gross, 2002), mourning and grief (Kear
and Steinberg, 1999), weddings (Boden, 2001) and sport (Whannel, 2002).
As a newly emerging field of inquiry, the sociology of sleep (Hislop and Arber,
2003; Kroll-Smith, 2003; Meadows, 2005; Williams, 2005; Williams and Boden,
2004) has provided new and stimulating approaches to the study of social rela-
tions and social problems alongside broader issues such as gender, age, health,
lifestyle, consumption and risk. Important sociological dimensions to such dis-
courses and debates include the social, cultural and historical factors which shape
and/or mediate sleep patterns and practices. It is somewhat surprising, however,
that little sociological work has considered how the constructions and representa-
tions of sleep issues in the media form the everyday background and common-
senses to such debates.
The Modern Sleep/Work Relationship:
Sociological Debates, Media Coverage
In order to address this neglect, this article explores how the British print media
frames issues of sleep, especially in relation to work, in contemporary, 24/7
society. Continuity and change in the British workplace are certainly factors
which have propelled sleep, along with work-related stress, into the media spot-
light. As Sparks et al. (2001) have argued, over recent years the nature of work
in many organizations has been radically transformed via advances in informa-
tion and communication technologies, globalization and labour market restruc-
turings. These dramatic changes have led to a situation in which there is an
overriding demand for flexibility in employees skills and functions, combined
with an extension of operating or opening hours and increased workloads all
of which can adversely affect well-being, occupational health and work-life bal-
ance. Hamermesh (1999), too, has discussed how rapid changes to the timing
of work can negatively affect workers well-being and employer profitability.
The emergence of flexible capitalism, characterized, amongst other things,
by the growth of the service sector, intensified working, less job security, multi-
skilling and multi-tasking, has resulted in modern cultures of work being distin-
guished by long hours and flexible shiftwork. According to Jarvis (2002) it is
precisely these elements of labour market deregulation which generate stress for
families and households. In particular, the temporal and spatial compatibility of
spousal employment in dual-earning households is a leading factor in generating
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stress. The popular image of a time squeeze pandemic is, however, Jarvis argues,
occupation specific, with employment in the new knowledge economies per-
haps bearing the brunt of such changes.
Besides the long hours culture of new industries is the common phe-
nomenon of shiftwork, which can have equally adverse effects on physical and
mental health as well as social relationships and activities (Shen et al., 2006).
Shen et al.s Canadian-based research indeed found a strong correlation between
frequency of shiftwork and fatigue caused indirectly by disrupting sleep qual-
ity or indirectly by aggravating any existing sleep problems or disorders. So too,
other empirical research on the sleep/work relationship has highlighted issues of
risk and safety, performance lapses, health and sickness absenteeism, alongside
widespread economic consequences should the relationship between sleep and
work time not be taken seriously by employers and employees alike (Bonneford
et al., 2006; Philip et al., 2001).
These changing issues and concerns relating to working life, and the
sleep/work relationship of employers and employees, have spilled over onto the
pages of the nations daily newspapers. But how is this changing sleep/work rela-
tionship construed and constructed in the media? Are there significant differ-
ences in media coverage according to type of work or occupation? Are these
media constructions themselves engendering some sort of sleep crisis and if so
for whom? And what new light does this shed on sociological debates about
work time, work ethics and work culture in the current so-called era of flexible
capitalism? Our study, based on the social construction of sleep/work relations
in the British print news media (over time), is the first (to our knowledge) sys-
tematic sociological attempt to address, if not fully answer, these questions. It is
to the methods deployed in our study, therefore, that we turn as a backdrop to
the themes that follow.
Selecting and Analysing the Newspaper Coverage
Our study was designed to explore media representations and to deconstruct
and decode the messages contained within them. It is therefore beyond the
remit of this article to analyse the processes by which audiences receive and
interpret messages, although the study of such messages is one of the crucial
elements in the circuit of media production, representation and reception
(Miller, 1989).
The media articles from which this study draws were sourced from the Lexis
Nexis archival database. Our selection of five UK national newspaper texts (Times,
Guardian, Daily Mail, Daily Mirror, Sun) was influenced by knowledge of the cir-
culation figures and readership profiles alongside sampling for contrasting tone,
format and political orientation. Together these five newspapers accounted for
76 per cent of the total circulation of UK national dailies in 2005.
1
Articles were retrieved from these five newspapers using a search strategy
designed to be inclusive. For example, we searched simply for the term sleep
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in the headline or at the start of each article (rather then biasing our retrievals
towards medical topics by using terms like disorder or apnoea). The earliest
article in our sample is from 1984, with different newspapers recruited to Lexis
Nexis at different points in time. We sampled until 30 September 2005. Each
retrieval was read to screen out articles that had no relevant discussion of sleep
or sleep disorders. This left us with a final sample size of 1051 articles, which
were coded according to six emerging key themes:
1 The medicalization and expertization of sleep;
2 public health, safety and risk;
3 the economics of sleep and sleep and work in 24/7 society;
4 sleep and the domestic context;
5 the rights and wrongs of sleep and;
6 consumption and consumer culture.
Initial readings of articles grouped under theme 3 the economics of sleep and
sleep and work in 24/7 society catalogued and compared the use of keywords
and phrases, key developing issues and storylines, the use of experts or sur-
vey/poll data, how the reader was addressed or drawn into the piece, instruc-
tions on how the article should be read, and any vocabulary with moral or
emotional overtones within the selected articles. This preliminary analysis
revealed several key emerging sleep/work issues which we then used as an aid
to further qualitative, interpretive analysis on how such articles constructed
their subject (e.g. sleep, work-life balance, long hours culture). In describing the
kinds of representations of sleep and work that occurred in our sample, three
significant areas of newspaper coverage became apparent:
1 the problematization of sleep for the British worker, including the chang-
ing status of sleep in relation to work cultures and work ethics and the
developing slumber divide between professions;
2 comparisons and contrasts drawn between British sleep/work relations and
those of other countries or cultures (such as France, Japan, Mediterranean
or siesta cultures); and
3 coverage of workplace initiatives or company policies that are beginning to
take the sleep of their employees more seriously, both inside and outside
the workplace (e.g. napping at work, duvet days, etc.), including critical
media commentaries on these schemes.
Besides these substantive areas, we noted a growing tendency in newspaper cov-
erage to frame this apparent sleep/work crisis in predominantly middle-class
or professional terms, which led us to speculate as to whether or not these
media constructions and portrayals are themselves engendering a new moral
panic or paranoid culture about sleep and, if so, for whom.
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Constructions of Sleep and Work in the News
Media representations of the sleep and work relationship certainly reveal a great
deal about perceptions of past and present work cultures in Britain and highlight
the changing nature of work in late capitalism. Our media sample positioned
labour relations and work stresses in the broader framework of the changing tem-
poralities of modern lifestyles and the tendency to sacrifice or squeeze our allo-
cated sleep time. Articles presented a distinctly modern notion of sleep and
work, argued to stem from the Industrial Revolution and its need to structure our
time, mixed in with a puritanical element in the face of a changing modernity.
More specifically, our media research has highlighted the construction of sleep
deprivation as an occupational hazard, part and parcel of expanding experiences
of modern occupational stress. Two articles which appeared in the Guardian in
2004 provide a perfect snapshot of the present tensions in the sleep/work rela-
tionship a relationship, it is suggested in an article published on 1 November
2004, that should now become a central tenet of political debate, having been the
forgotten dimension of the debate on work-life balance for many years. This
same article goes on to present evidence from the political think-tank Demos
claiming that Britain is afflicted by a national sleep deficit that is causing tetchi-
ness in the workplace and running families ragged. As the Guardian reports,
Demos polling research found 39 per cent of adults said they suffered from lack
of sleep, rising to about 50 per cent among managers. Half of managers who con-
fessed to going short of sleep said the tiredness made them irritable and shout
more, while 19 per cent said they were likely to make mistakes at work. The other
article that also covers Demos research makes an explicit association between
modern work ethics and the stigma it brings to sleep The culture of modern
work, especially in large companies, is premised on an attack on sleep, which is
stigmatized as little more than wasteful downtime (quote from James Wilsden
from Demos, The Guardian, 16 February 2004)
Risk discourses are part of the machinery that functions to set sleep and
work times up as a problem or crisis for society. In our sample we found recog-
nition of the problem of fatigue in the workplace, be it through lost productiv-
ity, falling IQs, increased health risks or accidents of various sorts, some fatal.
For example, on 16 April 2002, the Daily Mirror ran an article called 24-hr
poorly people: Danger from lack of sleep, warns expert. It begins:
24 hour culture and round-the-clock working patterns can lead to long-term health
problems, a medical expert warned yesterday. Dr Derk-Jan Dijk said people are not
designed for the vampire-like routine of working nights and sleeping during the day
[] He said: It is getting more important to evaluate how much people sleep
because of the effects on their health, alertness and performance at work.
We can also see here the use of the sleep expert to provide legitimacy to the
Mirrors concerns, thus raising broader questions of legitimacy, power and status
with regards to who has the authority to speak on sleep matters in the media.
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This emphasis on social change is heightened by coverage which laments the
move away from natural sleep patterns. There is a sense of longing for days gone
by, as shown in the following quotation from the Times (13 November 2003):
Sleep isnt what it used to be What with round-the-clock TV, internet chatrooms,
fluid forms of work and multiple opportunities for alcohol-fuelled play, weve lost the
simple rhythm of the age when we rose with the lark and went to bed with the lamb.
We can see here a certain romanticizing or sentimentalizing of the past. There
is, moreover, a feeling of societal sleep patterns being communal that is, how we
all slept then versus how we all (dont) sleep now in the 24/7 society. Our lives,
and thus sleep patterns, are now more complicated than they were, leaving peo-
ple disrupted and disorientated, with an underlying feeling akin to jet lag. Sleep
patterns are represented as a jerky, fractured reflection of the way we are awake.
Repeated emphasis is placed in the media on how the norms and ideals that
help structure work cultures and work ethics change over time. For example, one
headline from the Guardian (12 April 2000) reads: In the 80s sleep was for slack-
ers. Now its the new status symbol and goes on to present evidence of how sleep
has changed in status to reflect shifting cultural norms and values. A now and then
portrayal of how different eras have conceptualized sleep is presented:
In the 1980s sleep was for slackers. Donald Trump slept three hours a night between
parties and deals. Bill Gates said of Microsoft programmers: They dont need much
sleep. They will work 24 hours round the clock. Margaret Four Hours Thatcher
may have saved her own life by staying up to work on her speech on the night of the
Brighton bombing. Company directors were reminded that Leonardo da Vinci slept
15 minutes every four hours and that Napoleon, Voltaire, Edison and Churchill
barely slept at all.
So, in the 1980s, the power-elite such as Margaret Thatcher, Donald Trump
and Bill Gates viewed sleep as sacrificial to their work and leisure time. This
former squeezing of sleep time for work time and resulting economic or per-
sonal success is, however, very much presented as a trend or fad of the past.
Now, the article argues, the high-powered in society have realized that they
have the same basic needs as the rest of us:
Jeff Bezos, 35, chief executive of Amazon.com, sleeps eight hours a night. Marc
Andreesen, 27, Netscape founder and chief technology officer at America Online,
gets eight-and-a-half hours. Richard Branson needs eight to function properly. Tony
Blair has to catch up if he has a late night.
What is new, though, the piece argues, is that, not only are todays high-powered
fulfilling their sleep needs, they are falling over themselves to boast about it:
Last month the Wall Street Journal called sleep the new status symbol. At a time when
most people complain that they stay at work too late, its now a sign of class to refuse
to sacrifice your normal brain function to the 24-hour industrial beast. Sleep snobs are
dismissing the late-nighters as daft. (Guardian, 12 April 2000, our italics)
Yet despite this apparent positive and all-round healthy U-turn in thinking on
sleep matters, the new refreshed executive is now charged with the crime of
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showing off about their dormant endeavours as a form of one-upmanship. The
sleep indulgences of the high-powered, in other words, are far removed from
the work cultures of the factory, the open-plan office, the shop floor, not to men-
tion the unpaid work of the housewife, mother or carer. Or, as the Guardian
presents it:
Status-sleeping at a time when UK workers are chronically sleep deprived is the
equivalent of a slim person walking into a room full of porky people eating a cream
bun. (Judi James, a business consultant, speaking to the Guardian, 12 April 2000)
Leading on from these points, another article, again published by the
Guardian (2 March 2005), speaks of the dangers of a slumber divide between
professions, as reported in a recent survey carried out by the Sleep Council (a col-
lectivity of those with a commercial interest in sleep, primarily bed manufactur-
ers), which found big differences in the amount of sleep people get, depending on
the nature of their employment. The Guardian frames this slumber divide as:
a divide emerging to add to all the other divides from digital to wealth. At the
top are solicitors with an average of 7.8 hours sleep and 20% of them actually get
as much as ten hours a night. Enough said. At the bottom end of the scale, the worst
sleepers are MPs.
The findings from this same piece of research were also highlighted by the Daily
Mirror under the heading No Sleep Hits MPs (2 March 2005). It too reports
that MPs suffer from the problem of the over-extension of the working day,
resulting in them being labelled as the most sleep-deprived workers, averaging as
little as five hours per night with only on-call doctors sleeping less. The Mirror
chooses to include in their (briefer) coverage a statement by Jessica Alexander of
the Sleep Council attesting to the importance of sleep for the shapers of our soci-
ety Our politicians responsible for making decisions that affect all of our
lives may not be in the best mental or physical shape to do so, she warns.
Above all, then, analysis of our media sample found sleep tangled up with
broader, shifting attitudes to work and social or public responsibilities, and with
issues of competition, power and inequality across all sections of society. These
issues are perhaps nowhere more evident than in two work cultures that the
British media single out for sustained attention, namely politicians and (junior)
doctors.
Sleep,Work and Politicians
Analysing media representations of sleep and political life provides a fascinating case
study of the devaluation of sleep within macho political culture. Overwhelmingly,
we found that stories about the sleep habits of politicians developed the notion that
sleep within political culture is viewed as for wimps, the lazy, the immoral and,
equally, that sleeping stands in opposition to the work ethic and the around-the-
clock responsibilities of those in a position of power. Developing this point, the pos-
session of a certain level of power is represented as a stimulant leading politicians
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to dismiss their need for sleep. Power sleeping, similarly, is constructed as the
preserve of the power elite (or, alternatively, the disorganized).
Far from applauding such behaviour, culture and values, however, media
coverage is often critical in tone and content. Sleep on it, Tony, published in the
Times on 3 April 1999 and written by former MP Matthew Parris, for instance,
paints a picture of the macho ethos of politicians in the face of increasing sleep
deprivation, casting doubt on the merits of this ethos:
We will rest far more easily in our beds if we know that those who lead us also rest
in theirs. The Prime Minister looked shattered this week in the Commons Why
do we tolerate even celebrate overwork and lack of rest in our statesmen? When
did this stupid notion take hold that it is somehow macho to operate on half the
sleep-time the rest of humanity needs? Whats so clever about working for two days
with no repose between them and still being able to walk? I blame Margaret
Thatcher. Before her, Prime Ministers used to sleep.
There are indeed numerous mentions of Margaret Thatchers fabled or legendary
four hours of sleep per night elsewhere in our sample. The standard line of argu-
ment taken is that Mrs Thatcher is an extreme example of the folly of admiring
sleep deprivation: a cult that has made admirable what ought to be regarded as
reckless and sloppy (Times, 26 April 2003), her conduct being blamed for setting
a contentious precedent for other politicians that a 20-hour day is an expected
shift in political life. It is also reported on an earlier occasion by the Times (11
March 1997) that the management of her sleep was a topic the former Prime
Minister discussed in her book The Downing Street Years There was an inten-
sity about the job of being Prime Minister which made sleep seem a luxury, she
argued, as justification for training herself to sleep for only a few hours at a time.
The lives of MPs more generally are analysed with respect to their sleep/work
patterns and behaviours. Snoozing MPs, for example, are described as an affront
to the dignity of Parliament (Times, 24 November 1994) a sight perhaps set to
become all too common with the culture shock of earlier commons sitting hours.
Indeed our sample included a piece by David Cameron (Guardian, 9 January
2003), now leader of the Conservative Party, about coming to terms with his new
working day after Parliament changed its timetable changes which also have to
fit around spending time with ones families and getting a life outside work. This
leads Mr Cameron to conclude that we are now trying to pack too much into the
parliamentary day. Something will have to give, he warns, before insisting that
his sleep wont be it and perhaps trying to set a new trend in terms of valuing or
revaluing sleep in the face of this macho culture.
Doctors, Shiftwork and Sleep
Medical work cultures have long been associated with unsocial hours and irreg-
ular and enduring shift patterns with survival guides for junior doctors tack-
ling the issue of sleep deprivation head-on, particularly since the introduction
of the European Working Time Directive which means junior doctors are now
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regularly doing night shifts (Horrocks and Pounder, 2006). A number of media
articles attempt to capture the realities of doctors being on call for 30 hours
non-stop. These are typically framed in terms of increased risk to themselves
and others and take the format of personal narratives When I drive, at 5am,
across five miles of Sprawlshire, to see a patient in A&E after a constant trickle
of crap calls that stopped me getting any sleep at all so far, what kind of a men-
ace to society am I?, asks one doctor (Guardian, 27 June 2002). This doctor,
however, in a later article celebrates the fact that his hospital trust is changing
its rotas to become New Deal compliant, agreed in anticipation of the Working
Time Regulations (the enactment of the European Working Time Directive in
the UK). He describes the move away from 33-hour shifts as an immense his-
torical moment which means he will never again have to flirt with madness for
lack of sleep (Guardian, 3 December 2002).
With regards to the sleep rights of the medical profession, the Sun (18
January 2002), in keeping with its general penchant for scandalous or sensa-
tionalized stories of things that happen to people, ran a story about junior
doctors working in a hospital that was so strapped for cash that they were
forced to sleep in their CARS (original capitals). It is further claimed that even
when this dire situation occurred (which also included sleeping in their offices),
these junior medics were still charged rent by their superiors. The article goes
on to reveal that a senior house officer from the hospital (in Ayrshire) con-
firmed that family accommodation was indeed damp with grossly inadequate
sound and light proofing although, officially, hospital chiefs had not con-
firmed these reports. Sleep, in this sense, provides an index of inequalities and
injustices which make newsworthy stories. This in turn lends support to the
claim that a slumber divide exists not just between professions or occupational
groups but within them too.
Stress discourses permeate media portrayals of the working life of junior
doctors that in turn frame and problematize sleep. The Sun (14 July 2000), for
instance, informs us that a stressed South African doctor working in an
Edinburgh hospital stole drugs from there to help him sleep after being on call
for 169 hours. A court heard how he was on call for 24 hours a day, seven days
a week, branding his rota outrageous. The doctor admitted he stole and took
diazepam and midazolam I am unable to sleep and they help, he is reported
to have explained to police. The court apparently condemned the hospitals
tough regime and deferred sentence for six months. Stress among doctors is an
issue that has concerned us for some time, said a General Medical Council
spokesman in the conclusion of the piece.
There are also important linkages and resonances here between the inces-
sant, around-the-clock work culture of the medical profession and wider con-
cerns with the surveillance, discipline and accountability of the worker in the
24/7 society. Advances in technology, for example, mean that growing numbers
of the population are continually on call and bleeped in a way previously
only experienced by doctors. This developing cultural ethos of constant calls
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and incessant demands on our time, both day and night, in turn resonates with
the crisis mentality that surfaces periodically in any media analysis.
It is too early to tell, perhaps, the precise impact the European Working
Time Directive will have on junior doctors sleep. This, indeed, may well account
for the relative absence of stories on the impact or implementation of these
changes in our newspaper sample, though our sample of course ended in
September 2005. To the extent, nonetheless, that (junior) doctors sleep, or lack
of it, remains a newsworthy story, then we can expect media coverage of these
issues to continue, particularly in light of the fact that implementation of the
European Working Time Directive means that most junior doctors will work full
11- to 13-hour night shifts, rather than on-call, as an integral part of their work
rotas: hence the recent issuing of preparation, survival and recovery guidelines
by the Royal College of Physicians (Horrocks and Pounder, 2006).
Socio-Cultural Differences in the Sleep/Work
Relationship: Backward Britons?
Debates on working time, work-life balance, and the demands of flexible cap-
italism are taking place in a number of countries (Cousins and Tang, 2004;
Fagnani and Letablier, 2004). In the British context, such debates are increas-
ingly being aired in the national press, which not only treat the sleep/work bal-
ance as a cause for national concern but present British workers as worse off
than their counterparts in other countries.
2
This has certain resonances with
Brookes (1999) analysis of newspaper techniques designed to draw the reader
into a process of identifying with the nation and with current phenomena which
are altering the collective British identity. The Mirror, for instance, paints a pic-
ture of the typically tired British worker in an article called Sun, Sea and Sleep:
Holiday Brits too Tired for Sex (10 May 2000), drawing on a new poll from
travel magazine Escape Routes which revealed that while on holiday 33 per
cent of Brits could not wait to get into bed, hastening to add that it was to sleep
rather than for a passionate romp. This, according to the Mirror, is because
the British work the longest hours in Europe and the current national trend is
to take more short breaks than ever before to recover from work.
The Daily Mail (8 October 2002), in similar fashion, suggests that Britons
are now so busy they increasingly take their work to bed with them. Reporting
on a survey which found that one in six respondents admitted doing some kind
of office activity there, the Mail constructs this move from the boardroom to the
bedroom as throwing British sleeping habits into chaos. In equally alarmist
tones, on 22 March 1999, the Mail ran an article with the header Too little sleep
and youre a dimwit by Friday, followed by an opening sentence that states lack
of sleep is turning Britain into a nation of borderline retards, warn scientists.
Concerns and fears about this British problem or affliction, it is reported,
have also begun to spread across the Channel. One article in the Times, for
example, covers a campaign by French intellectuals about what they describe as
a defining issue for modern society more sleep, that is. Sleep-starved French
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dream of a good night in (31 May 2004) relates how the French are blaming
their perceived problems:
on the spread of an Anglo-Saxon work-hard, play-hard culture, which leaves peo-
ple too stressed to sleep, even when they try. Campaigners say that the syndrome is
exacerbated in France by widespread anguish over globalisation, with people wor-
rying their way through the night. As a result, the great pleasures of Gallic life, such
as the long sleep that follows a good meal, are disappearing.
These Gallic concerns, however, are further contextualized if not tempered later
on in the Times article when it is pointed out that the French have a maximum
35-hour working week imposed by law. These cultural differences in sleep/work
relations as a source of comparison, if not critique, provide the focus of a range
of articles, many of which view British employment practices as old-fashioned,
detrimental for both employer and employee and, consequently, in need of
change. An article in the Guardian (11 June 2001), for example, highlights the
new Mediterranean Monday scheme currently being trialled by health supple-
ment company Oleomed. This pilot initiative is investigating whether introduc-
ing key elements of the Mediterranean lifestyle sleeping, eating, dancing and
alcohol into traditional British offices can improve worker productivity and
satisfaction. The companys new daily schedule is described thus:
at exactly 12.30, dark handsome men, and lithe tanned ladies arrive, bringing
Florentine flavours, Sicilian sounds, Corsican comfort, and two olive oil supplement
pills from Oleomed. Workers must quit their duties, but dont worry theyre not
skiving all are provided with pyjamas and pillows to make the next half hours
siesta more comfortable. For those who balk at the idea of sleeping with their col-
leagues, additional items are provided to make the job a little easier: red wine, bed-
socks and eye-patches.
On 2 November 2004 a piece in the Guardian discussed further cultural
differences in attitudes to sleep and work in Japan, whereby the sleep industry
is increasingly catering for the drowsy office worker (via portable napping pil-
lows, handy sized cuddly hot water bottles, sleep pods and the like) whose
refreshing microsleeps are part and parcel of the working day:
In Tokyo, its not unusual to see a salaryman stretched out on the office sofa grab-
bing 40 winks, and Japanese employers do not generally frown on catnapping.
Reprimands are rare, and dismissals unheard of, as bosses figure that an employee
refreshed by a microsleep is better able to endure the marathon that is the average
working day in Japan.
These issues in turn reflect what Steger (2003) terms a polyphasic sleep pat-
tern characteristic of napping cultures such as Japan.
Developments and New Directions in the
Sleep and Work Relationship
Building on these developments, discourses and debates, there appears to be
mounting evidence to suggest that sleep is now being more positively construed
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as the ultimate performance and productivity enhancer for workers and/or the
perfect antidote to the speeding up and urgency of everyday life: also construed
as the cheapest form of stress relief around.
A number of articles describe the latest moves by companies to encourage
employees to sleep at work most often companies in the US (with the antici-
pation that Britain will follow). Dozy staff work best (Daily Mirror, 24 April
1998) reveals that firms are actively encouraging staff to sleep at work by pro-
viding beds to let stressed-out office workers relax with a nap. It reports that
approximately 20 per cent of employees at architects Gould Evans (a Kansas
City firm) have used sleep tents put up in an empty office area. Such snoozes
are still highly regulated, however, as employees are allowed just 20 minutes to
nod off and 20 more to snooze. We are similarly informed by the Times (28
June 2000) that in the United States, a new trend is emerging among some for-
ward-thinking, typically corporate, companies to create special nap rooms to
enable their overtired or jet-lagged workers to have 40 winks away from their
desks. So too, the Guardian (29 January 2000) shows how initiatives in the US
by organizations such as Kodak, IBM, Pizza Hut and PepsiCo, who now run
courses in the art of the 15-minute nap, are leading to a similar trend emerg-
ing here with companies such as St Lukes (advertising agency) and Freemans
(mail order) installing chill-out or relaxation rooms for their staff.
These developments in turn are backed up and supported by a growing
number of consultancy firms and books in which the art of the (workplace) nap
is taught or touted. The US, for example, boasts a number of such sites and
sources of information. Alertness Solutions,
3
for example, is a scientific con-
sulting firm that translates knowledge of sleep into practical strategies in
order to improve safety and productivity in our 24-hour society. Similarly, a
major goal of William and Camille Anthonys Napping Company Inc.
4
is to
bring the science of napping to the workers and the workplace so that employ-
ees and employers can act on this knowledge and change worker napping
behaviour and employer napping policies (Anthony and Anthony, 2005: 209).
Yet media coverage of these workplace initiatives such as napping rooms and
duvet days designed to counteract the lost efficiency and increased risks when
workers are tired does include elements of critique, albeit partial. A frequent
workplace napper, for example, admits in the Times (28 August 2002) that she
still finds it faintly embarrassing to know that other people will witness her asleep
at her desk in an open plan office. Issues of privacy and the display of the sleeping
body at work, as this suggests, come into play here with regards to public oppor-
tunities to nap. The workplace nap also, of course, raises broader sociological con-
cerns and questions about the greater potential for worker exploitation in the era
of flexible capitalism (Martin, 1994), and the blurring of spatio-temporal bound-
aries between home and work this entails: what Baxter and Kroll-Smith (2005)
appositely term the de-privatization of sleep. The Guardian, for instance, takes
just such a sceptical line in a piece entitled Its neither big nor clever to cut back
on sleep, whilst simultaneously justifying the aforementioned slumber divide
between professions in the course of their argument:
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Sure, some employers just might, as a gimmick or in return for pay cuts, give their
staff hammocks to sleep in after lunch. But not many will. And it doesnt really
address the problem of good nights sleep. If anything, the more important you are,
the more sleep you should need, because the more you learn and do during the day,
the more sleep you need to consolidate it all. (10 November 2004)
So-called important people who might be experiencing changes to their
sleep/work practices are not, however, always those in typical positions of
power, but equally those whose jobs have major implications for public health
and safety. In this respect, (semi-)skilled manual workers in particular are see-
ing their sleep (or lack of it) put under the media microscope, given concerns
and campaigns within the sleep science community about the dangers and risks
of sleepy drivers in general and lorry drivers (or truckers as they are referred
to in America) in particular. Numerous reports, for instance, single out drivers
as typical sufferers of sleep apnoea typical, that is to say, in terms of their
gender (male), age (middle aged) and lifestyle (over eaters and drinkers, often
sedentary). Further research on the social consequences of allowing drivers with
sleep apnoea to continue with their employment unchecked is therefore pre-
sented in the media as urgently needed and of grave importance for tackling
such a pressing public health and safety issue. The Times (21 February 2002),
for example, reports how 3000 Scottish bus drivers are working with scientists
at Edinburgh University to illuminate the prevalence of sleep apnoea in their
profession. The research is described as being designed to see whether profes-
sional drivers can be made to drive more safely and it is anticipated that the
findings will make a good case for screening bus drivers for sleep apnoea before
they take up their post. A succinctly titled article in the Sun (17 August 2004),
Road Sleep Risk, also highlights the policy implications of sleep and safety
issues for workers who drive. It reports that British experts have warned of the
need to screen for sleep apnoea, quoting Professor Martyn Partridge, of
Imperial College London, as confirming that this is a major health issue. Far
removed from the napping rooms and sleep pods of corporate culture, then,
questions concerning the moral responsibility, if not legal culpability, of sleepy
drivers add a further important dimension to the media framing of the
sleep/work relationship and the sense of crisis it engenders.
Concluding Remarks
This article has provided a detailed analysis of sleep and work stories in the
British print news media. We have therefore been primarily concerned with
media representations rather than with issues of audience reception or the insti-
tutional production of newsworthy stories in this domain. A number of inter-
related themes, in this respect, have been identified, including: the implications
of flexible capitalism in relation to the work/life balance; sleep deprivation and
stress as distinctly modern occupational hazards; a growing slumber divide
within and between professions and other occupational groups within the
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labour force; variations in the sleep/work relationship according to occupation,
shifting culture, time and place; and the promises and pitfalls of workplace
policies and initiatives (such as napping rooms and duvet days) designed to take
the sleep of employees more seriously.
Twenty-four-seven society, long hours culture and the work-life balance,
it is clear, are key media themes within these discourses and debates which them-
selves attest to the rapid changes facing contemporary societies. Consequently,
the squeezing or sacrificing of sleep time, the speeding up and urgency of every-
day life, and the culture of incessant contactability have become part and parcel
of an impending sleep crisis not just for individuals and their families, but also
for business communities and the very fabric of society.
Sleep as such is simultaneously construed and constructed in the news as
both symptom and solution to an increasingly ravenous work culture (cf.
Baxter and Kroll-Smith, 2005) and to the broader demands and dictates of life
and living in the fast lane. Alternatively, we may ask whether these media con-
structions of sleep and work and the stress or risk discourses within which they
are embedded will fuel or facilitate some sort of a moral panic or crisis regard-
ing our sleep. Or whether, instead, through setting the parameters, shaping the
very content of the sleep/work crisis and promising solutions such as work-
place initiatives, screening for sleep disorders, various consumption opportuni-
ties, and revaluing sleep as a status symbol the media are actually containing
any ensuing moral panic as much as they are creating it.
In answer to these questions, our research suggests that the media are
indeed picking up on, and amplifying, the cautions and concerns voiced within
various sectors or segments of the sleep science community about the changing
relationship between sleep and work, which then helps turn it into a matter of
public concern. Commercial interests and pharmaceutical sponsorship also, of
course, play a critical role here in helping to turn or translate sleep into a mat-
ter of public concern, with or without the help of the media see, for example,
Moynihan et al. (2002) and Woloshin and Schwatz (2006). This then raises the
question as to whether or not the media are simply mouthpieces of the sleep
science fraternity, itself polyvocal, (and these broader commercial interests) or
whether they play a more active or critical role. Certainly, the frequent, and
typically unquestioned, inclusion of experts in media articles attests to some
sort of close and respectful association between these two groups. But media
coverage on sleep, we have found, moves far beyond the simple regurgitation of
expert or professional sleep science discourses to engage with a range of more
popular and everyday matters. Here, then, sleep not only serves as a topic of
concern in its own right but is itself being used as a convenient metaphor or
cipher for the realities of life and living in 24/7 society: a vehicle, in effect, for
the mobilization of broader anxieties and concerns about contemporary culture
in these runaway times. In these and other ways, then, the media are con-
tributing to what Williams (2005) has termed the sleepicization of society: a
heightened cultural awareness and sensitivity to sleep and a readiness to trans-
late all manner of contemporary problems into sleep-related matters.
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The media, as we have seen, also provide a somewhat partial or selective
picture of who has work-related sleep problems whether they are framed as a
distinctly middle-class corporate crisis (including sleep-deprived journalists
themselves) which reinforces the mentalmanual divide and/or represented as a
crisis associated with the risky lifestyles of working-class drivers whose actions
put the general public at risk on a daily basis. The former type of coverage, we
argue, clearly ties into the remaking of middle-class lives in the era of flexible
capitalism, alongside a broader remapping of class relations and distinctions,
and the re-articulation of mental and manual labour. Calls for certain time-
squeezed sectors of the workforce to take sleep seriously can therefore be
viewed as responses if not adjustments, healthy or otherwise, to the rigours of
achieving middle-class prosperity, whereby the management of sleep guards
against the pitfalls of poor achievement or performance and lowered produc-
tivity in such an achievement-based culture.
On the other hand, the tendency of certain lower-class workers to have their
sleep/work habits more closely scrutinized and regulated shows how discourses
surrounding sleep can act in a regulatory and disciplinary manner. In this some-
what Foucauldian sense, the discursive formation of sleep (and work) as a social
issue, rehearsed and articulated so often in the media, constructs the realities of
lower-class sleep/work habits through producing new bodies of knowledge and
concerns about it. Here, discourses of risk are undoubtedly part of the media
machinery that functions to set certain sleep/work practices up as problematic for
the individual and, equally often, as a health and safety crisis for wider society.
Of course in highlighting these key themes we are not suggesting that perva-
sive communication about the sleep/work relationship, presented here as articu-
lated in the nations daily press, is imprinted upon or transmitted to its audience
in any simple or straightforward manner. Indeed, the circuit of communication
(Miller, 1989) that flows between media messages and audience engagements
is now recognized as far more complex, subtle and multi-dimensional than
older effects or hypodermic models which assumed media power and audience
passivity.
The contribution of this article indeed lies in its examination of a strand of a
more complex set of meaning-making processes and moments that is, media rep-
resentations rather than production or reception. We may, however, speculate that
media audiences learn what social issues or problems are of emerging importance
via the priorities of newspaper coverage (i.e. their agenda-setting), their mode of
address, and their claims to authority and expertise on the matter in question. Whilst
there is undoubtedly a need for more work on questions of audience reception and
production with regards to sleep-related content in print news media, future research
in this new area needs also to explore how sleep and work are represented in other
types of media, including new media such as the internet. Whatever form they take
and however much influence they have upon audiences, media constructions of the
sleep/work relationship certainly provide valuable sociological insights into the
dynamics and dilemmas of flexible capitalism, including the demands of the 24/7
society and the changes and challenges to British working life.
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Notes
1 Calculated from circulation figures on Newspaper Marketing Agency website
http://www.nmauk.co.uk
2 See Bonney (2005) for a fuller discussion of illustrations of the widespread per-
ception that Britain suffers from long hours culture.
3 http://www.alertness-solutions.com accessed June 2006.
4 http://www.napping.com accessed June 2006.
Acknowledgements
This study was funded by a grant from the British Academy. We are grateful to the
British Academy for their support.
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Sharon Boden
Is Lecturer in Sociology at Keele University. Her current research interests lie in the soci-
ology of consumption, gender and sexuality. Previous research has investigated the iden-
tities of children and tweenagers as fashion consumers, the commercialization of the
contemporary wedding, and media representations of sleep and the bedroom.
Address: Keele University, Keele, Staffordshire, ST5 5BG.
E-mail: s.k.boden@keele.ac.uk
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Simon J.Williams
Is Professor of Sociology at the University of Warwick. His recent research has focused
on the sociological dimensions of sleep, including his latest book Sleep and Society:
Sociological Ventures into the (Un)Known (Routledge, 2005). He is currently researching
the pharmaceuticalization of sleep and wakefulness, and the social construction of
sleep(iness) in relation to a variety of (new) media.
Address: University of Warwick, Coventry, CV4 7AL.
E-mail: s.j.williams@warwick.ac.uk
Clive Seale
Is Professor of Sociology at Brunel University. He is a medical sociologist with interests
in a variety of areas, including end-of-life decision-making and care, communication in
medical and other health care settings, mass media and health and the internet and
health. His work is methodologically diverse, including statistical and social survey work
as well as qualitative work based on text analysis, interaction analysis, and conversation
analysis. Key textbooks on social research methods include Researching Society and
Culture (SAGE, 2004) and Social Research Methods: A Reader (Routledge, 2004).
Address: Brunel University, Uxbridge, Middlesex, UB8 3PH.
E-mail: clive.seale@brunel.ac.uk
Pam Lowe
Is a Lecturer in Sociology in the School of Languages and Social Sciences, Aston
University. She has a broad interest in womens health, including reproductive health and
domestic violence. She is also currently engaged in work on the sociology of sleep.
Address: Aston University, Aston Triangle, Birmingham, B4 7ET.
E-mail: p.k.lowe@aston.ac.uk
Deborah Steinberg
Is a Reader of Sociology at the University of Warwick. Her current research interests lie
in cultures of science, medicine and technology, with particular emphasis on genetics
and reproductive politics, popular and professional cultures, embodiment and narrative
theory, science fiction, and sciences of gender, sexuality, race and nation.
Address: University of Warwick, Coventry, CV4 7AL.
E-mail: d.l.steinberg@warwick.ac.uk
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