At the end of many entries in his famous diaries, Samuel Pepys signed off with an endearing phrase: "And so to bed."
For Pepys, those four little words marked the end of another day in 17th-century London - often a long day, at that. For 21st-century Americans, the phrase could serve as a clever rallying cry for a fledgling movement that wants to encourage people to catch more zzzzz's.
Once, new parents constituted the primary group of sleep-deprived adults. Now two-thirds of Americans don't get eight hours of sleep every night, according to the National Sleep Foundation. The result, the group says, is a nation of sleepyheads.
What happened? Blame it on a combination of events, ranging from late-night television to women's entry into the workforce, turning them into "jugglers" with multiple roles. Add the demands of a 24/7 world, and bye-bye, eight-hour night.
Sleep became viewed as expendable, even a waste of time. To admit to getting a full night's sleep was to risk characterizing oneself as a dullard. The new form of bragging became: "I'm too busy and important to sleep."
Hard-chargers quietly revised Ben Franklin's maxim, "Early to bed and early to rise," turning it into advice that could read: "Late to bed and early to rise, It's the only way to win the prize."
Now, finally, sleep is becoming the new luxury.
As one sign of changing attitudes, Sealy Inc., is spending an estimated $20 million on print and television ads to emphasize the value of a good night's sleep. It also wants to change its image from being a mattress company to that of a "sleep wellness provider."
Even President Bush is setting a good example by turning in early, according to reports from Washington. If the most powerful leader in the world can get his eight hours a night and take naps, surely the rest of us should be able to spend more time with our eyes closed.
Not so many years ago, women's magazines encouraged readers to set the alarm half an hour earlier in order to find quiet time alone or to get more done. Dark raccoon circles under your eyes from too many short nights? Not to worry. The solution became, not more sleep, but artfully applied makeup known as "concealer." Now the same publications are running headlines touting the value of sleep.
Even airlines are marketing sleep, albeit at hefty prices. In some first-class cabins on international flights, seats turn into full-length beds. For thousands of dollars, pampered executives can sleep like a baby at 39,000 feet, while the rest of us back in the sardine section - sorry, economy class - sit upright, struggling to get even an hour's rest.
The corporate world also is beginning to catch on. A handful of companies now provide nap rooms, recognizing that a midday snooze can improve a worker's alertness.
In hotels, too, sleep has become the new status symbol. Westin advertises a "Heavenly Bed," offering "layers of comfort and relaxation." And certain Hilton Hotels feature "Sleep-Tight" rooms, complete with soundproofing, special drapes, and other sleep aids. This month, guests in those rooms can even take their pillows home with them.
Could these progressive steps signal the beginning of larger changes, a more relaxed pace? Slowing down for a full night's sleep might even lead overextended Americans to take another radical step: using their full vacation time.
It's hard to imagine a better way to begin the summer than with a revised version of the three R's: rest, relaxation, and recreation. After that, as the master diarist would have said, "And so to bed."
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor