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The Slumbering Masses: Sleep, Medicine, and Modern American Life (A Quadrant Book)

The Slumbering Masses: Sleep, Medicine, and Modern American Life (A Quadrant Book) [Kindle Edition]

Matthew J. Wolf-Meyer
1.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Product Description

Product Description

An eye-opening look at why a “good night’s sleep” might be anything but

Americans spend billions of dollars every year on drugs, therapy, and other remedies trying to get a good night’s sleep. Anxieties about not getting enough sleep and the impact of sleeplessness on productivity, health, and happiness pervade medical opinion, the workplace, and popular culture. In The Slumbering Masses, Matthew J. Wolf-Meyer addresses the phenomenon of sleep and sleeplessness in the United States, tracing the influence of medicine and industrial capitalism on the sleeping habits of Americans from the nineteenth century to the present.

Before the introduction of factory shift work, Americans enjoyed a range of sleeping practices, most commonly two nightly periods of rest supplemented by daytime naps. The new sleeping regimen—eight uninterrupted hours of sleep at night—led to the pathologization of other ways of sleeping. Arguing that the current model of sleep is rooted not in biology but in industrial capitalism’s relentless need for productivity, The Slumbering Masses examines so-called Z-drugs that promote sleep, the use of both legal and illicit stimulants to combat sleepiness, and the contemporary politics of time. Wolf-Meyer concludes by exploring the extremes of sleep, from cases of perpetual sleeplessness and the sleepwalking defense in criminal courts to military experiments with ultra-short periods of sleep.

Drawing on untapped archival sources and long-term ethnographic research with people who both experience and treat sleep abnormalities, Wolf-Meyer analyzes and sharply critiques how sleep and its supposed disorders are understood and treated. By recognizing the variety and limits of sleep, he contends, we can establish more flexible expectations about sleep and, ultimately, subvert the damage of sleep pathology and industrial control on our lives.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1927 KB
  • Print Length: 306 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0816674752
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B009W81T5G
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Average Customer Review: 1.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,206,329 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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More About the Author

Matthew Wolf-Meyer is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Santa Cruz. His work focuses on medicine, science and media in the United States, and draws on history, contemporary experiences and popular representations of health and illness. The Slumbering Masses is the first book-length social scientific study of sleep in the United States, and offers insight into the complex lived realities of disorderly sleepers, the long history of sleep science, and the global impacts of the exportation of American sleep. Wolf-Meyer holds degrees from the University of Minnesota (PhD, Anthropology, 2007), Bowling Green State University (MA, American Cultural Studies, 2002), the University of Liverpool (MA, Science Fiction Studies, 2000), and Oakland University (BA, Literature 1998).

Wolf-Meyer originally became interested in sleep as an undergraduate, when he worked third shift for three years. Throughout high school, he had been a late riser, and would often need naps after school; during college, he decided to fit his schedule to his sleep pattern, and would take late classes and work through the night. While many of his co-workers experienced difficulties with night work, Wolf-Meyer enjoyed it. However, it made sustaining relationships with night-sleepers difficult, and he eventually abandoned night work for a daytime schedule. He returned to thinking about night work and sleep for his dissertation, which led him to his interests in the contemporary experiences of disorderly sleep and the practice of sleep medicine in the United States.

His work has appeared in Current Anthropology, Comparative Studies of Society and History, Medical Anthropology, Biosocieties, Body & Society, PoLAR: Political and Legal Anthropology Review, Extrapolation, Foundation, and the Journal of Popular Culture.

Customer Reviews

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1.0 out of 5 stars Try something else 5 Sep 2013
By Andrew
This book has irritated and bored me more than anything else I've read in several years. After several chapters I can only tell you one thing that I have learned, which is that neither Thomas Edison or Benjamin Franklin slept for eight hours straight each night, so perhaps it's not such a strict necessity after all. That sums up the message that I was able to extract from 100 pages of the most unnecessarily abstruse, vague, and faux-technical language I think I have ever read. In those pages there has been almost no meaningful discussion of sleep science or sleep medicine, except some vague suggestions that doctors' real motives are to control the masses, with no evidence or argument to back that up.

I'll give an example from the book, in which Mr. Wolf-Meyer is writing about a schoolboy who was brought to a sleep clinic, after his teacher made him ride an exercise bike in class in order to stay awake:
"That he came to find himself pedaling a stationary bicycle through his mornings at school created a new intimacy: with himself as a sleeper, with the bicycle, with his school, peers, and teacher, with his parents. These new conditions of his life became an inextricable web of intimacies and desires that could be interrupted only with substitutions in order to maintain the order that had been established. Although we may feel far from Ted, we are all like Ted, and the intimacies that constitute our everyday lives sustain and fatigue us, motivate and burden us."

This is not a passage I've maliciously singled out from the book; every paragraph is like this. Vague, almost entirely devoid of meaning.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.4 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Incomplete Review 7 Dec 2012
By Stella Manukyan - Published on
Proust, on writing about falling asleep, required 30 pages to discuss merely tossing and turning. Matthew Wolf-Meyer, set out to debunk the notion that consolidated sleep is a scientific fact and norm in fewer than 300 pages. Wolf-Meyer undertakes a substantial project, at times, made evident by single sentences (that take on a fourth or more of a page). I have now read the book twice and am still weary of summing it up and before I attempt to I would like to point out that Wolf-Meyer's The Slumbering Masses does exactly what an anthropological ethnographic critique of a scientific notion should. It provides very in depth historical data as well as numerous theories to draw on. The fieldwork is comprehensive as well as engaging. Finally, although Wolf-Meyer provides a kind of solution to the problem namely that there is not a singular right way to sleep because there are not singular biologies, he also posses rhetorical questions that may raise potential problems in the future.
There are many claims integral to Wolf-Meyer's premise. I will not address all of them. However, I will suggest that if you--as a reader and learner-- are intrigued by the subject of this book namely sleep, but don't think you'll be able to get through the language within it, do some research about both what science studies are and what a medical anthropologists (who is writing an academic book) should achieve within an ethnography. A simple Wikipedia search will suffice. Two concepts that will help put into context why someone might have the audacity to claim that the eight hour consolidated sleep structure is a social construction and that there are, in fact, many ways to sleep are: 1) science undergoes paradigm shifts (read Thomas Kuhn) and 2) the laboratory is not exempt from the social and cultural (read Bruno Latuor). Wolf-Meyer offers us a solution: multibiologism. This notion, at least to me, makes a lot of practical sense. Just think about all the people you know. Do all the people in your life unanimously like mornings, evenings, require a lot of sleep, or a little bit of sleep? Or is there variation among them? This is variation that, to a degree, is normal.
Why do we even need a solution? Well, when we look at how and why Americans sleep the way we do there is a recognizable historical landmark that changed the acceptance of variation: the industrial revolution. In summation: the industrial revolution along with capitalist systems changed the workday. Factory workers were required to work a consolidated 9-5 (or similar) shift and consequently sleep too became consolidated. This change created a new everyday spatiotemporal rhythm and routine, one that marginalized those bodies that did not fit into the order of the new system. These disordered bodies were brought into to the forefront of sleep scientist's research recently. This is not to say the dominant conception regarding sleep in America has remained the same over the last few hundred years. On the contrary, science, medicine (more specifically integral biomedicine), and popular culture affect attitudes because we are situated in time and space. Which is to say, our notions of sleep on not only biological but also social and cultural, these are always interconnected (see Wolf-Meyer's Introduction).
The everyday is that which is the connection in the seemingly unconnected aspects of our daily lives, or more specifically, the everyday is the way in which we manage individual and separate projects but can still find a fluidity to life. According to Wolf-Meyer, the everyday American life, in its spatiotemporal organization, is dependent on sleep from 11-7--this is a normalized ideal--and as such all the connections in life mold to this model of a day. School is from 8-3/4, work is from 9-5, this is the order society takes and those individuals within society that need help fitting in can use an plethora of concoctions to assist them. This also seems obvious, if anyone has attended school K-12 as that was the schedule. If anyone works an office job, that is the schedule. Wolf-Meyer provides convincing ethnographic data from individuals who speak from an array of backgrounds to evidence the use of stimulants such as caffeine, soda, and energy drinks. However, Wolf-Meyer points out how in the 90's an attempt to make a 24/7 norm with places like Kinko's (ironically, his source of income as an undergraduate was the 3rd shift at a Kinko's) staying open from dawn to dawn. This later proved unprofitable (because of a 24/7 internet culture), but there are still numerous factors, such as stress, that contribute to some sleep disorders. His claim is that it has become normal for us to take a sleeping pill at night and wake up with coffee in hand. This is due in part to the fact that there is such a small nighttime job market, in part because the movement to nap throughout the day has been thwarted, in part because noncompliance is a form of protest. There is no place in society for a disordered body, we must take the pill and drink the stimulant. Wolf-Meyer reminds the reader, several times throughout the book the phrases: "early to bed early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise" and "the early bird catches the worm". These phrases have a moral implication and create a type of ideal American worker. And since we are desiring subjects, which are "formed through a complex interaction of internal and external forces we are impacted by both the cultural and `biological' norms". These are the structures that sleep clinics and integral medicine attempt to support in finding "scientific data" to prove that we need consolidated sleep.
The ethnography is laden with intellectual jibes at a hegemonic capitalist idealized norm. Satirical, insightful, and at times oddly passionate. Wolf-Meyer addresses everything from the effect sleep can have on children to murders committed while sleepwalking.
I know this is not nearly a complete review. This book is dense and not a "casual" read. Unless you're a genius. I would like to end from a quote from the book that may or may not be relevant, but that I found beautiful and poetic in it's own right (although diverse from Proust's poeticism).
"The imposition of the inevitability--that the everyday must unfold in particular ways and that all bodies should behave similarly--creates parity among actors, in this case between individuals and society, between one and the masses; it renders them isomorphic and subject to the same rules. In the social formulation of the inevitabilities of American capitalism and expectations of human desire, these isomorphic bodies are rendered congruent in rough fashion and inseparable".
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars All you ever wanted to know about sleep 29 Sep 2012
By BLehner - Published on
Oh to sleep! Oh to nap! Oh to be restless and unable to fall asleep! In his book The Slumbering Masses Matthew J. Wolf-Meyer, anthropologist of medicine and science, explores sleep in all its facets - from sleep medicine to the rise of solitary sleepers, from workplace naps to sleepwalking murders.
How could I, a big fan of taking an afternoon nap, resist such a promising read? Sleep doesn't come easy and I was amazed at the diversity and complexity of sleep disorders, as well as intrigued by the social formations of sleep. What is healthy sleep? What is disordered sleep? Even though in condensed form, it certainly shows that several years of extensive research went into this book. And amidst the historical and clinical data, there are also lots of interesting facts to be found.
While fascinating, unfortunately I also found the book a bit slow going in places, and admittedly I had to struggle through some parts. While I wouldn't go so far as to say this book isn't for the general public, I found the execution a tad too scholastic for my taste. This is the kind of book which you'd expect on your college reading list; it might not be accessible to anyone, but is definitely worth a read for those genuinely interested in a serious and deep discussion of the topic.
In short: An extensive survey on everything you ever wanted to know about sleep!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the NetGalley book review program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Must Read: For Medical Anthropologist and Anyone that Sleeps (even more so if you don't) 9 April 2013
By Paige - Published on
Everybody knows at least one person that claims to have--or they themselves experience--a sleep problem. Our everyday lives are inundated with commercials for sleep medicine, advertisements for the perfect bed, and constant marketing for energy drinks that will keep you going when you don't have time to rest.

Matthew J. Wolf-Meyer's book The Slumbering Masses: Sleep, Medicine, and Modern American Life addresses almost every aspect of sleep and how its boundaries structure our waking life. This review will focus on the aspect of his book that looks at how our society has come to be dependent on pharmaceuticals to sleep, stimulants to stay awake, and the many implications this dichotomy has on modern American society. The Slumbering Masses is a must read for anyone that is in the field of medical anthropology and for any person that is currently dealing with or thinks they may have a sleeping "problem." The goal of this review is to inspire everyone to read this book--the need to sleep is something we all share, and understanding how we have come to understand sleep sheds light on the ways we and the people around us interact with their environment. I hope this review will complement the previous review by Stella Manukyan.

For those of you that aren't used to reading books based on academic theory and written with scholarly language, I recommend looking at a blog post the author wrote in order to help guide one through the book with ease:

In regards to medical anthropology, Wolf-Meyer's book should be considered an essential stepping-stone towards understanding modern American life's rhythm and structure. As explained in this book, sleep was not always consolidated to a solid 8-hours during the night. This phenomena, stemming out of the industrial revolution and capitalism, has not only lead to the structuring of schools and workplaces but has also created a global movement. The second half of the book discusses how modern American sleep habits have created spatiotemporal imperialism, which not only effects workers in India and around the world but has lead countries like Spain to revoke their afternoon siestas and push for consolidated work-days. Over the past century, sleep has changed from something that is natural and mutated into an unruly and problematic issue that can be controlled/regulated through medicine--thus creating the slumbering masses.

If you are not a medical anthropologist and are like the many people that stopped me while I was reading this book to ask questions about sleep, sleep problems, sleep medicine etc., I recommend getting this book, skipping the Intro and maybe initially skipping to Chapter 4. This book will most likely answer all of your questions. Not only does Wolf-Meyer supplement his writing with actually interviews and case studies that that may remind you of someone you know; but he ties in everyday examples and bedtime stories like "Goodnight Moon"--of which most Americans can relate to.

I encourage people of all backgrounds to read this book because despite the lack of general public conversations/critiques on the topic of sleep medicine I truly feel like it is something everyone has some experience with. As a kid I remember the few times my mom took sleeping pills I had to help her into bed--which makes me wonder how many children are taking care of their parents or siblings in families where parents routinely take sleep medication? Or how should the law deal with people that fall asleep behind the wheel? What are the long-term effects of teenagers consuming high dosages of caffeine? If medicated sleep is accepted as the norm today what does that mean for the future?

These are questions that Wolf-Meyer starts to address, and that I as a biologist and anthropologist believe society should start asking. Although the author is careful not to give his opinion as to how society should change or what should be done--his case studies, data, and cited literature are enough to show that kids and parents alike are already "self-medicating" in an attempt to regulate their patterns of sleep and wakefulness to meet societies demands. If this issue isn't addressed we will continue to breed a society addicted to pharmaceuticals and stimulants--the long-term effects of which are unknown.
4.0 out of 5 stars really interesting 26 April 2014
By Eunjae Shin - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I had a chance to read this book as a part of my anthropology class. at the end of the class on this book we got to talk to Wolf-Meyer who proved to be a wonderful. interesting, and kind person. I like the book.
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Must-Read 29 Nov 2013
By greenlionplanck - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Thorough examination of the subject of sleep in America. Excellent, scholarly writing in a clear tone that conveys the importance of this topic.
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