This Dissertation Improvement Grant in the Science and Society's Program in the Social Studies of Science, Engineering and Technology is an ethnographic study of sleep and sleep medicine in American society, with particular focus on the ways in which sleep is variously defined within different institutional contexts, including scientific research centers, hospitals, support groups, and civil society, including schools and corporate workplaces where sleep is a policy concern. In order to situate these understandings historically, archival research will be conducted on the development of temporal regimes in American society with special attention being paid to the role of the state, rural and urban dichotomies, and the perceived naturalness of time in shaping culturally normaluses of time. This study challenges dominant interpretations of biopolitics by showing how contemporary biopolitical regimes depend on the construction of biology as increasingly mitigated by culture. This process depends on the discursive production of biology and nature as being inevitable and opposed to culture, which is understood as being flexible. To date, there have been no theorizations of biology and its relation to inevitability, or temporal regimes more generally. Sleep provides a window through which to understand the role of inevitability and flexibility in contemporary American biopolitics. Moreover, building on Thomas Kuhn's theorization of scientific paradigms, this study provides an ethnographic understanding of the relationship between competing scientific-medical paradigms, as contemporary sleep medicine is currently a site of contestation between competing fields of medical specialty, specifically pulmonary and neurological medicine. Finally, the proposed research is the first sustained historical analysis of the role of time in American culture and politics, specifically within the institutional contexts of the hospital, workplace, school and family. The National Sleep Foundation estimates that 40% of Americans are sleep deprived, with 75% of Americans reporting suffering from sleep disorder symptoms a few nights a week or more. Sleep deprivation has been shown to lead to depression, decreased mental acuity and poor physical health. Additionally, some cases of attention deficit disorder diagnoses are claimed by sleep clinicians to be misdiagnosed patients suffering from sleep deprivation. Sleep medicine also indicates that adolescents require more sleep than prepubescent children, although middle and high schools traditionally begin earlier than elementary schools, leading to rampant sleep deprivation in middle and high school students, which may be ameliorated by the alteration of school start times. Similarly, although many businesses have positive policies regarding flextime very few employees take advantage of such, which has led recently to the introduction of workplace napping policies. Technology allows human beings to modify their days by lengthening them with electric light; there is no need to abide by the current use of time in the school and workplace when it results in sleep deprivation for almost half of Americans. By understanding the cultural influences on normative time use, institutions within American society may be empowered to adjust their uses of time in order to benefit the health of workers and students and thereby find a balance between the demands of biology and the possibilities provided by technology.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Social and Economic Sciences (SES)
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stephen zehr
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University of Minnesota Twin Cities
United States
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