Can You Stand Being Uninformed?

As a newish parent, I’ve come up against something that has baffled other parents forever: children don’t sleep.

It doesn’t make logical sense, especially that my daughter cries more when she’s tired, rather than, you know, going to sleep. I hear it gets worse later, as children refuse to settle down for sleep when their parents are still awake. Someone wrote a book about it, which Sam Jackson read aloud in memorable fashion. If only George Carlin were alive to bless this book with a reading. NSFW for language, incidentally.

As I checked my email one last time on my iPad, lying in bed, ready to sleep, I realized something.

People can’t stand to be uninformed, at any age, also know as what-if-something-happens-while-I’m-sleeping syndrome.

This makes scientific (I use the word loosely) sense, since sleep is the time when you’re most vulnerable. Modern conditions protect the vast majority from harm while sleeping, so maybe we’re transferring that nervousness to checking other items before rest. I also have to think that humans with more information tended to be more successful throughout the millenia. After all, our brains helped us overcome other physical shortcomings when compared to other mammals.

The rise of the smartphone and tablet (OK, iPad) ties directly to this need to be constantly informed, constantly connected.

Even though it can lead to poor sleep, a large number of people check email in bed, before heading off to sleep, and first thing in the morning before they even get out of bed. It helps that the smartphone has an alarm, among its many other dazzling features, making it an easy fit for the nightstand.

I’d like to think this is new, but it’s not. Lots of people, including people in my household, use a laptop in bed. Lots of people religiously watch the late news in bed or read the newspaper at night or in the morning over breakfast.

We just can’t stand to be uninformed, and I’m realizing this starts at a very early age, like immediately. For example, my daughter is much easier to put to sleep at night if her parents are also going to sleep. Among the reasons why, I assume, is the knowledge that interesting stuff isn’t happening without her, since we’re also sleeping. Pretty smart.

So, what do you think? Are we wired to stay informed through whatever means possible and even in detriment to our overall welfare?

Do you check email (or Twitter, Facebook, etc.) all the time, in bed, and first thing in the morning?

Knowledge is power, so the saying goes.

Find the comments.




  1. It’s probably one of the reasons I have such cruddy sleeping habits…if I go to sleep, I might miss something. It’s not nearly as bad as it used to be (i.e. a teenager) though.

    I only check email in bed, while sleeping, after waking up. Twitter, FB, etc, don’t care.

  2. I don’t check my digital feeds in bed at night, but I have been known to check email right after my alarm goes off in the am. Perils of having my iPhone serve as alarm clock.

    So much of the world is new for babies that they’re in constant “moar data plz,must understand” mode. My daughter is an observe-and-synthesize type, and we had the same (non) sleeping issues you’re seeing. These days, the “I might miss something cool” concern is still there. She will protest through yawns, “But I’m *not tired*,” and be out cold within 30 seconds of me leaving the room.

  3. It may not be information that we’re craving, but fun.

    Forgive my inter-species example, but my dog barks a lot when someone leaves the house. My dog, like your child, doesn’t want to miss out on something, but your child (unlike my dog) is able to determine when everyone is going to bed.

    I also find that I sleep better when my online Starfleet Commander game is in “diplomacy mode,” which means that I cannot be attacked. When Starfleet Commander is in active mode, I could be attacked by someone at 3am and perhaps I’d better check and make sure I’m not going to be attacked and it will only take a few minutes and then I can go back to bed but what if someone launches an attack at 3:01 which hits at 4 and I miss it? Well, Starfleet Commander has been in diplomacy mode for a while now…

  4. Agreed, I think the mind wakes up more easily if there are external stimuli that might be interesting. Major bummer if you have staggered bedtimes in a household though, unless you’re the night owl, which you are 🙂

  5. I’m drawn to email first, and then I have to discipline myself to avoid the other time sinks. It’s a struggle.

    My daughter gets “over cooked” as we say, very quickly when she takes in too much. You can see the poor thing’s mode go from wow-this-is-so-cool to holy-crap-the-goggles-do-nothing in an instant.

    She’s fighting sleep right now; I can tell from the cries. Joy.

  6. Sure, fun is a major motivator too, and I glossed over that by lumping it into information. Early in life, things are more fun, later in life, they’re more informative.

    Interesting point about Starfleet Commander. I would love to see an email server implement a quiet hours feature, during which emails sent were queued, but not delivered, ensuring quiet time on the other end, for sleep, work, etc. The sender would receive a polite note with an emergency contact.

    There’s something there. I like it.

  7. I did forget to mention…I used to lay down with LC, he just would not go to sleep unless I (or mom) were there with him. Naturally I would fall asleep too…which made my sleep problems worse.

    It took 8 years and me being away to break (LC of) that habit. I would always justify it by saying to myself, but in 6, 5, 4, n years, he won’t do this anymore.

  8. I listen to the radio first thing, and check the news headlines on cable before I go to bed. Didn’t stop me sleeping though all of 9/11. The time difference means it happened late at night in Sydney. I also miss a lot of US twitter activity, which is why I prefer RSS and email which will happily wait for me.
    Generally been lucky with our kids. Except sleepovers which should be renamed ‘up late talking, throwing things and maybe strangling each other’. 

  9. Outlook rules probably allow you to define quiet hours, but it’s certainly not easy to do so.

    Of course, ten years ago I (and many others) didn’t need to worry about “quiet hours.” My computer was a desktop computer, and I didn’t work in a home office, and my cellphone didn’t tell me every time I got an email at work. Therefore, my hours after work were by definition “quiet.”

    It’s surprising that there isn’t an easy-to-use quiet hours feature in email. If I recall correctly, airline status notifications allow you to define quiet hours, and I’m sure other SMS-like services allow the same.

  10. I was talking about the server-side, which would make it possible to enforce from the top vs. at the individual level. It’s really a corporate expectation, not a personal one. If the company says you should have quiet time, that holds way more water than a personal decision to do so, which could be (and is) viewed as a weakness by some managers and coworkers.

  11. Australia is a tough timezone. Interesting about radio, I rarely use it for news. It’s funny that you say you “miss” Twitter activity, as if there’s much to miss 🙂

  12. I don’t check email all the time. Used to, but it was too much of  time sink. Twitter I do check a lot more. I guess the real issue with checking email is discipline in responding or not.

  13. Good point. I do check frequently, but I don’t always reply immediately. Twitter is a blur to me. I’ve long ago given up trying to stay current.

  14. Old Schooler here.  When we had the little ones, they went to bed when we “asked” them to (after the obligatory story, of course).  Then we followed the habit of staying informed via the TV and radio (Oh….those things!!??).

    Today our kids have kids.  They follow the same pattern described above….staying with their kids until they fall asleep.

    I know they do not think about their Twitter or FB account, but they might think about email.  My daughter caught me on my computer last night at about 11:30 through Skype.  We then caught up…..and became better informed.

    Answer?  Old Schooler seems to be getting along OK.  But then ignorance is bliss, right?

    Good question, though…..thanks

  15. I remember reading about Bill Gates’ house, with computer displays on the walls that activate as you are nearby, or something.  Then he goes out to the cabin in the woods for a month every year.

    I used to have to drive the baby around in the middle of the night to get him to sleep.  Now he’s 15 and (I’m worried, at least) in danger of burnout during the school year keeping his 4.3 GPA in all honors courses plus community service.  And Facebook.  But he seems to pull it all off.  I hope he has fun in college.  Other kid is amazingly restless in his sleep, I can’t even imagine being like those people who advocate The Family Bed.

  16. The need to be informed manifests differently for each generation. I sometimes watch the late news, mostly for the weather, and check email, but those younger than I probably skip the TV and inbox for Twitter and Facebook. I guess the problem is that we now have so many channels to check for updates that it’s becoming overwhelming.

  17. Disconnection for relaxation is underrated. I’ve read about hotels offering these packages, no TV, no internet. When we went to Australia years back, we stayed in a place like that, remote, no cell, no TV, no internet, just a pay phone. It was sublime, and thankfully, no one needed to reach us w an emergency.

    The Family Bed? Sounds like a terrible idea.

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