Representing the creative future

The Guilt of sleeping: Workism, Burnout and Hustle Porn

The link between sleep and failure impacts fashion students and professionals across the industry. Why are we made to feel this way, and what can we do about it?

Summer, the season of relaxation, is just around the corner, but many of us may feel that taking a break—whether it is university end-of-term or annual leave time—means falling behind with work in an industry that never takes a breath. In the context of project hands-in or presentations of graduate collections, it is also likely that those who have tirelessly worked are now finding themselves dealing with the effects of exhaustion.

Fatigue and fashion are inextricably linked, but most professions, nowadays, reward those who excel by putting in long, grueling hours. Are we naturally guilty of sleeping or are we made to be guilty? As the essayist and art critic Jonathan Crary puts it, sleeplessness is the inevitable symptom of an era in which we are encouraged to be “both unceasing consumers and unceasing creators.”

In his 2014 book titled Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep, Crary investigated some of the catastrophic implications of twenty-first-century capitalism’s increasing non-stop processes. “The marketplace now operates through every hour of the clock, pushing us into constant activity and eroding forms of community and political expression, damaging the fabric of everyday life,” reads an extract.

There is a widespread myth that sleep is for the weak, and that laziness is a symptom of a fair dose of rest.

Fashion, as a capital-driven business, is heavily reliant on labour and the constant, incessant generation of ideas. Reliant too, is the fashion system on its rude health. Neglecting one’s own wellbeing, including good sleep, is a means of coping with tight deadlines and fierce competition. There is a widespread myth that sleep is for the weak, and that laziness is a symptom of a fair dose of rest. Those wishing to pursue a career in fashion do not want to come out as lazy, but they are also afraid of not fulfilling standards and pushing boundaries hard enough, no matter how psycho-physically damaging this is. If we consider mainstream idioms such as “the early bird catches the worm” or “one that sleeps does not catch fish”, young, ambitious individuals tirelessly working for a future in fashion are hence expected to be on constant alertness.

“We’ve grown into a culture of filling all the hours of the day with activities, with sleep being the first thing to get sacrificed when we’re short on time.” – Samantha Briscoe, Lead Clinical Physiologist at the London Bridge Sleep Center

The understanding of the industry’s short turnaround times in production schedules, tumultuous fashion weeks, and forecasting trends necessitates designers and professionals alike being always on the go and awake.  Sometimes, there cannot be such a thing as regular sleep.

Samantha Briscoe, Lead Clinical Physiologist at the London Bridge Sleep Center, explains: “We’ve grown into a culture of filling all the hours of the day with activities, with sleep being the first thing to get sacrificed when we’re short on time. Our work lives are getting more stressful – with longer hours – which fuels anxiety disorders and can ultimately keep people awake at night.”

Workism: the belief that work is not only necessary to economic production, but also the centerpiece of one’s identity and life’s purpose; and the belief that any policy to promote human welfare must always encourage more work.

Essentially, from education to industry, those in fashion are trained to be workhorses.  It comes as no surprise, then, that a culture that channels its self-actualization dreams into paying professions sets itself up for communal anxiety, mass disillusionment, and inevitable burnout.

This idea is fuelled by the modern concept of “Workism”, the belief that work is not only necessary to economic production, but also the centerpiece of one’s identity and life’s purpose; and the belief that any policy to promote human welfare must always encourage more work. American Staff Writer at the Atlantic, Derek Thompson, argues that the economists of the early 20th century did not foresee that work might evolve from a means of material production to a means of identity production. Instead, “they failed to anticipate that, for the poor and middle class, work would remain a necessity; but for the college-educated elite, it would morph into a kind of religion, promising identity, transcendence, and community.” Thompson shares in an opinion piece on Workism that “My sense of identity is so bound up in my job, my sense of accomplishment, and my feeling of productivity that bouts of writer’s block can send me into an existential funk that can spill over into every part of my life.”

German Psychologist Herbert Freudenberger coined the word “burnout” and he described the condition as “the extinction of motivation or incentive, especially where one’s devotion to a cause or relationship fails to produce the desired results.” This latter quote has a lot to deal with how the pursuit of perfectionism affects creative practitioners in the industry. If you are a perpetual perfectionist, chances are that, according to Freudenberger’s definition, you may be facing times of incredible exhaustion, emptiness, and undermotivation.

Struggle Porn: the idea that unless you are suffering, grinding, working every hour of every day, you are not working hard enough.

If we take Karl Lagerfeld’s school of thought, burnout only affects those who cannot keep up with the system. The Kaiser told the WWD in 2015, “if you are not a good bullfighter, don’t enter the arena,” and “fashion is a sport, you have to run.” From the late designer’s words, a link can be drawn to the modern concept of “Hustle Porn”, a term that the co-founder of Reddit, Alexis Ohanian, has been championing over. In other words, Hustle Porn or Struggle Porn, is the idea that unless you are suffering, grinding, working every hour of every day, you are not working hard enough. It derives from a masochistic obsession with pushing yourself harder, listening to people tell you to work harder, and broadcasting how hard you are working. This gave birth to a subculture of Strugglepreneurs; people building businesses going nowhere that felt they were accomplishing something because they were struggling.

To what degree are these ideals paired with the twenty-first-century epidemic of sleeplessness, viable for the future of the fashion community? Hustle porn – of which the fashion industry at large is a victim of–  is damaging people’s health. Scientific studies demonstrate that by working too hard, you are overproducing adrenaline and cortisol and when these are overproduced, your immune system is more susceptible to illness and inflammation.

Given that fashion is a 3 trillion-dollar business equating to 2 percent of the world’s Gross Domestic Product, people in the industry are likely to face similar psycho-physical challenges as those in investment banking, for example. Reaching a breaking point, meaning burnout due to sleeplessness and stress, is the price that anyone and any given sector may have to pay depending on how successful they want to become.

In March 2021,  a shocking story on the “inhumane” 100-hour workweek at high-end investment bank Goldman Sachs, argued that the image of Wall Street firms and investment bankers had further lost some of its luster. “There was a point where I was not eating, showering, or doing anything else other than working from morning until after midnight,” a respondent of The New York Times poll disclosed.

74% of respondents compared to 24% feel guilty of sleeping because they are not working.

1 Granary polled a swath of its readership, namely fashion scholars, enthusiasts, and professionals. Out of 2.359 respondents, 48% sleep 6-8 hours per night while 52% do not get enough sleep. So far, this figure is oddly promising, but 74% of respondents compared to 24% feel guilty of sleeping because they are not working. We also discovered that anxiety, excessive workload, chronic stress, insomnia, and mental health disorders are among the most common reasons why respondents do not get enough sleep.

We attended a webinar hosted by Kathryn Pinkham, the founder of the Insomnia Clinic in Bloomsbury, London. This is the UK’s first specialised sleep disorder treatment facility. In her forum, Pinkham brought some clarity to what triggers poor sleep and some techniques to tackle it through her Sleep Well, Live Better program.

“I started The Insomnia Clinic after working in mental health and seeing how many people are affected by poor sleep. The condition is very curable, however long or how severely a person suffers,” reads a statement on their website. For more than ten years, Pinkham has been training a network of CBT (Cognitive-Behavioral) therapists to treat poor sleepers, achieving incredible results in a minimum of three sessions. “Not everybody needs therapy. That was my biggest takeaway; actually, many people came to me not needing expensive therapy, they just needed to know the right information, with a good understanding and the right order to do it,” Pinkham explains.

If we can understand what controls our sleeping and the things that we’ve done to make it worse we can nip it in the bud, we can stop making those changes that aren’t helping us.

Why do we develop insomnia? “Certain people are slightly predisposed to having insomnia and poor sleep. If you are worried by nature, or somebody who tends to ruminate and overthink a little bit, you are more likely to lie in bed worrying and therefore develop poor sleep. If you have grown up in a family where insomnia is a big deal, you’re slightly more predisposed to getting it. Then what can happen is, there is a precipitating event;  something happens which triggers poor sleep. Now, this can be something huge like a bereavement, a job interview, or an exam,” Pinkham explained. If we can understand what controls our sleeping and the things that we’ve done to make it worse we can nip it in the bud, we can stop making those changes that aren’t helping us.

“Using research and testing over 100 randomized trials, results show that on average 70 to 80% of people with long term poor sleep see improvements [from CBT] as effective as medication, and it’s more effective as a long term solution so it is something that will work much longer than a sleeping tablet,” she shared. As a result, it is now recommended by the NHS as the first-line treatment for insomnia. Time is a premium if you are sleep-deprived, but what if you could invest less than two and a half hours to learn what it is you need to do? People have been sleep-deprived for years and for many different reasons, but what Pinkham does is to put things into perspective, and focusing too much on sleep is not going to make the sleep any better.

 So, here are three things you have to consider to get better sleep.

Sleep drive

KP: The first thing that controls how well we sleep is our sleep drive. Picture an elastic band; when you wake up in the morning, this elastic band starts stretching. It gets tighter and tighter as the day goes on. Now, the ideal scenario is that by the time you get into bed at night, that elastic band is as tight as it can possibly be, ready to snap. Then we fall asleep quickly. We take back all of that drive and we wake up at the end when the elastic band is banging again. And then we start stretching it again. So in an ideal scenario, we stretch our drive out through the day and we take it all back at night. And that drive is really important. We know that actually if you have had a sleep in the afternoon, you might get into bed and feel wide awake; that actually you have taken some of the edge off from the elastic band – you’re trying to get into bed at a time where you’re not really sleeping – and suddenly the whole night falters and you have this weird disrupted sleep and it just doesn’t feel refreshing. That is because the drive needs to be high to get that quality of deep sleep. My biggest takeaway is do not go to bed early. If you are not sleeping well, going to bed early is the worst thing you can possibly do. Spending more and more time in bed trying to sleep is actually reducing your natural sleep drive, reducing the quality of the relationship that you need to have with your bed.

Body clock

KP: Most people have heard of a body clock that controls not just sleep and wake, but also hunger, thirst, and when we go to the toilet. All those different hormones are controlled by our body clock. A body clock is a 24-hour clock and it works well when it’s in routine. So, by eating at the same time as everyday and sleeping at the same time every day gets us into a nice routine. Our body clock and our sleep drive need to work together to create good quality sleep. Let me give you an example; if you were to miss an entire night’s sleep for whatever reason – you’re out partying or you’re working or you’ve got insomnia– you miss a whole night’s sleep. Let’s say you get into bed at seven o’clock in the morning and you try to go to sleep. Now, you might fall asleep but you probably only get a couple of hours. And that’s because your body clock is saying, “this is not the period of the clock where we’re designed to sleep. There’s nothing right about it, the sun is out, it doesn’t make any sense.” So, your body clock would give you a couple of hours, a bit of survival sleep. You feel groggy, it would just be enough to get you through, but it wouldn’t be the eight hours that you might have got at bedtime. If you wake up every night at 2 am for example, after a week or so, your body clock will assume that you want to wake up at two o’clock, and it just starts doing that. You will wake up and get in the habit of being awake for a couple of hours and then maybe get another hour of sleep before your alarm goes off. Although you don’t want that pattern as far as your body clock is concerned, actually that’s the pattern that you’re putting in place. We’re born with the ability to go to sleep; babies can go to sleep, but they’re not born with the ability to know when in a 24-hour clock or for how long, so we teach them that through behavioral methods. We can very easily wake them up every morning at 2 am and keep them awake for two hours, and then that would be their routine. So you learn to sleep well.

The bond with your bed

KP: The third thing that you need to know about what controls your sleep, is the bond that you have with your bed. Now, it sounds obvious but if you start to spend more time in bed wide awake, then actually your bed will be more connected to being awake, than it is with being asleep, so the bonding connection of your bed becomes very weak. It becomes about being frustrated, and it becomes about watching things or listening to things or doing things that aren’t sleeping.

 

1 Granary

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