“There aren’t enough hours in the day.” It’s a thought we’ve all heard but doesn’t ring true until time really becomes the limiting factor. Involved in the struggle is our ability to balance immediate goals and the nearly incomprehensible length of our lives. We have numbers and units to measure age, it’s not like the grains of sand on the beach, but our mind has trouble fully capturing this length. As Tony Robbins has pointed out, “Most people overestimate what they can do in a year and they underestimate what they can do in two or three decades.”
If we knew we’d live to 200, it seems that certain time management would be easier. Meeting with friends and family would be less pressing, we’ll all be around a lot longer. Certain goals, from learning to travel to movies, would presumably be pushed to the back burner. Instead, time sensitive tasks like getting to market with a product or making a great dinner for the evening might become more important. As we all know, however, this would eventually lead back to the same issue as before, a difficulty to fully grasp a decade and continued pressure to budget our time.
Yet, this is the path we’ve chosen to pursue. Billions of dollars and countless hours are invested in extending our lives and allowing for a longer, more comfortable existence. Few things capture our imaginations and desires with such intensity. I’ve been shooting to live until the next century for years now. It’s an idea that comes to mind as I read about gene testing, climate change, and healthy eating. All to stretch out those goals and desires, get a bit more runway.
Maybe, though, more days isn’t the same as longer days. Each morning, we’re awoken to new possibilities and a new supply of energy. We can push forward the endeavors of yesterday, often with a fresh vigor and clear mind. But few who have experienced a truly productive day would see the same results if those tasks were extended over a week. I don’t mean to sound like a critic of longer living, I’m just not sold it solves the hours in the day problem.
More intriguing, to me, is the hope of clawing back some of the time we devote to sleep. Roughly a quarter of our lives are spent unconscious. Assuming 8 hours of sleep a night, we spend over 121 days each year in slumber. Over 2900 hours. For a 75 year old, this amounts to 25 years of their lives. We push for health advancements and novel technology to extend our years, but what about our days? 4 less hours per night would yield 12 more years.
I’m not a scientist or doctor and I know very little about sleep beyond my own experience. Lately, it’s become hip to sleep more, to feel rested and avoid the endless toil imposed by “the man”. For the most part, it’s a fair sentiment, but life can be finicky and at times those eight hours don’t exist. We immediately can feel the difference, if not the following day, soon enough. Our mind moves slower, ideas don’t settle properly, and we crave a fresh restart. Eventually, the sleep monster comes crawling back. We crash in full exhaustion, back to the unconsciousness that will prepare us for the tasks of tomorrow.
So, to imagine a longer life through less sleep, we need to improve efficiency. But if four hours rested us like eight, would it feel like we’ve gained another decade?
For me, mornings are the best. There’s a potential that doesn’t exist as the day progresses and it’s the reason I scramble out of the house. The feeling only lasts a few hours, past a few coffees, and I take advantage by acting as efficiently as possible. Certain foods, habits, and places are best in the AM. By noon, once the world and my mind have fully woken, as lunch replaces coffee in the air, my attitude changes. Little by little, the day progresses and I lean toward the evening. My ability to take on certain tasks goes away. Decision making worsens and I begin to crave the pillow.
If days lengthened, we’d need to get more rest. Four hours wouldn’t be enough. But if we up that to five, enough to handle the new, 19 hour day, how would we handle it? An extra hour and a half in the morning and night? Wake up at 5:30 instead of 7:00? Sleep at 12:30 instead of 11:00?
Personally, I wonder how we’d collectively deal. Extend the day in each direction and it’s a wonder how my “morning” attitude would differ. In isolation, on those days I manage to wake early, the morning extends with me. Four hours in, I can still enjoy coffee and eggs, even after I’ve worked out, answered emails, and been productive for a few hours. If it were all of us though, I’m not so sure. The hustle and bustle, along with lunch, would come sooner. Would we accomplish just as much, have the endurance for the longer day? If I spend an hour reading before bed now, could I simply push that to an hour fifteen?
At the end of the day, it’s all speculation. A cure for tiredness isn’t on the horizon. The situation is as attached to our being as thirst and hunger. Individually, we can improve sleep efficiency, grabbing some extra time in the wee hours for a quiet work session or morning run. Like extending our lives as a species, the impact of collective sleep improvements would have tremendous impact. Longer lives have led to more production, as well as more mouths to feed. Longer days would surely do the same. Retirement comes later, healthcare lasts longer. Would the workday extend, and with it the lunch break?
They love to say “40’s the new 30”. But is that really what we want?
“30’s the new 40”. Maybe that should be the goal.