What's the Carbon Footprint of Sleep?

carbon footprint of sleep photo

Image credit: Jenni Grover

Just over a year ago, my wife gave birth to our beautiful baby daughter. At the time, it prompted some musings on the awesome power of women, nature and intuition. Now that Lilia is a year old, all I can think about is sleep. (Yes, we are finally getting some!) As I was laying in bed thinking about what a wonderful thing sleep is for the soul, I realized that it is also good for the planet. But just how good? The idea that sleep is environmentally friendly should be a pretty non-contentious one. After all, when we're sleeping, we're not consuming. We're not driving around. Most of us have the lights out. And if we're good little TreeHuggers, we may even adjust the thermostat, and turn off our appliances to fight vampire power. It's the reason why we have off-peak energy times, when demand is low, and we may even soon have appliances that automatically run while we are sleeping to even the strain on the electrical grid.

But how much energy can sleeping more really save? According to a post Leonora wrote back in 2006, about napping for nature, "The 5 per cent of Britons who regularly grab less than five hours sleep utilise 16 per cent more electricity, 9 per cent more gas and consume and burn over 1.5g more fat in each 24 hours than the 6 per cent of Britons getting over nine hours in the land of nod."

Of course it's hard to draw a direct causal relationship here—the folks I know who sleep 5 hours or less tend to be high flying over achievers with money to burn—a sure path to a higher carbon footprint. Meanwhile, the folks who sleep 9 hours or more tend to be—shall we say—on the more relaxed side. Nevertheless, it's clear that the more we do, and the longer we do it for, the more energy and resources we will consume. It's one of the reasons I have become an advocate for Slow Business.

It's not just a question of how much you sleep, but when you sleep too. The Japanese Ministry for the Environment recently unveiled its Morning Challenge campaign to encourage citizens to go to bed earlier and to get up early too, thereby reducing emissions. (Some conservative-minded bloggers saw this as the ultimate nanny state solution. They may have a point.) And there's long been a controversy over the energy demand impacts of Daylight Savings Time too.

Ultimately, it's probably impossible to quantify the contribution a healthy, adequate sleep routine can make to sustainability—but we do know the damage that a lack of sleep can do. From too little sleep making kids fat, to extreme commuters turning into road zombies, we would all do better if we got a little shut-eye. The climate would thank us for it too.

This post is dedicated to Lilia and Jenni. Get some sleep.
More on Sleep, Sustainability and Taking it Easy
Napping for Nature: Sleep More and Save the Environment
Is Lack of Sleep Making Your Kids Fat?
Extreme Commuters Spend Their Lives on the Road
Slow Business: A Manifesto for Reclaiming Our Lives

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