The Fourth Industrial Revolution Meets the Sleep Revolution

Last week more than 2,500 global leaders from more than 100 countries came together in Davos for the annual World Economic Forum. The dominant topic of discussion this year -- both inside the talks and panels and outside, as well -- was transition. Klaus Schwab, the Forum's founder, captured the spirit with this year's theme, the Fourth Industrial Revolution, calling for a collective future "that reflects ultimately that the human being should be at the center." This human element was unmistakably at the center of the conversation. It was the year of explicit calls from leaders in business, technology, media and governments across the globe for a way of working that goes beyond an obsession with shareholders, profits and quarterly earnings, and for a way of living that prioritizes our well-being -- including, and especially, sleep.
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ROME -- Last week more than 2,500 global leaders from more than 100 countries came together in Davos for the annual World Economic Forum. The dominant topic of discussion this year -- both inside the talks and panels and outside, as well -- was transition. Klaus Schwab, the Forum's founder and executive chairman, captured this sense -- the possibilities as well as the challenges -- with this year's theme, the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Schwab describes this new period as "the fusion of technologies across the physical, digital and biological worlds which is creating entirely new capabilities and dramatic impacts on political, social and economic systems." It's an era of automation, constant connectivity, and accelerated change, in which the Internet of Things meets the Smart Factory. But, he also warns, "a shared understanding of this change... is essential if we are to shape our collective future in a way that reflects ultimately that the human being should be at the center."

This human element was unmistakably at the center of Davos this year. It was the year of explicit calls from leaders in business, technology, media and governments across the globe for a way of working that goes beyond an obsession with shareholders, profits, and quarterly earnings, and for a way of living and working that prioritizes our well-being. Taken together, the conversations at Davos this year are a blueprint for a wider definition of success, one that recognizes that in our quest for a competitive edge and enhanced performance, we actually stand to gain from putting our humanity, well-being, and sense of purpose at the center.

If the Fourth Industrial Revolution will be defined by speed, connectivity, and change, there's also a need for a countervailing force. This was the topic of a panel I was on with Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan, Bono,, Shahrzad Rafati, and hosted by Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, who said, "Speed is the new currency of business." But as he also said, the Fourth Industrial Revolution begins with trust, which has been at the heart of business as long as business has existed -- and will only become more important in our more transparent ever-faster-moving world. Benioff's point exemplified a larger truth of this year's Forum, that far from being add-ons, a focus on trust, transparency, purpose, and a deeper kind of connection are central to meaningful success in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

And this realization is spreading. As the renowned mindfulness teacher Jon Kabat-Zinn, who opened this year's Forum with a meditation session, said, getting world leaders to practice mindfulness isn't the hard sell it was just a few years ago. "In fact, they're seeking it out, I'm not actually seeking them out," he said.

Over and over, in my own panels and conversations, I saw evidence of this shift. On one panel about how new insights from neuroscience can improve performance and productivity, I spoke with Dr. Murali Doraiswamy, professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Duke, and Dr. Aki Hintsa, an orthopedic and trauma surgeon. As we discussed the latest findings on how downtime can enhance performance, a theme emerged: sleep. "Sleep is probably the glue that ties all our health together," Doraiswamy said. "The brain actually works harder when we sleep than when we're awake." Hintsa illustrated this with real-life examples -- of racecar drivers in Formula One! His expertise on sleep-based performance enhancement has made him a sought-out coach for drivers who want to shave fractions of a second off their time. With his help, drivers like Mika Häkkinen and Lewis Hamilton have gone from being top competitors to reigning champions. "Operating three nights in a row on just five hours sleep is equivalent to driving a car drunk," said Hintsa. Somehow this metaphor is even more powerful when coming from someone who actually mentors people who drive really, really fast.

Operating on too-little sleep is clearly dangerous when driving fast cars, but it's also deeply problematic for the rest of us -- for our health, our relationships, and our performance. And far from becoming less important, sleep will be even more important to our individual and collective success as we charge ahead into the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Fortunately, as I argue in my new book coming out in April, we are in the early stages of another revolution -- a sleep revolution -- that will help transform the way we live and work. Researchers, working in what is a golden age of sleep science, are pulling back the curtain on sleep and revealing, in study after study, the profound benefits of sleep in every part of our lives -- from our health, job performance, and relationships to our creativity, emotional intelligence, and happiness. As Hintsa put it, "The foundation for better performance and a better life is rooted in our health and well-being." And sleep, more than anything else, helps us to build that foundation.

This resurgence of sleep at the dawn of the Fourth Industrial Revolution is all the more notable because of how deeply intertwined our notions of sleep were with the First Industrial Revolution. Up until then, sleep was largely regarded the same way it was going back to the ancient world: as an important, even sacred, gateway to something larger than ourselves, and as central to virtually every part of life.

That relationship with sleep changed dramatically with the First Industrial Revolution. With artificial light, the night could now be colonized, and with mechanization, it could be monetized. Sleep quickly came to be seen as a wasteful obstacle to all these new economic possibilities, just another resource to be mined and exploited to maximize profit. Not only was sleep no longer venerated, it was openly scorned, considered pre-modern, something to be left behind in the age of progress and productivity.

This is when sleep-deprivation acquired its macho image, a sign of strength and dedication, what Alan Derickson in his book Dangerously Sleepy calls "heroic wakefulness." This is the idea of sleep that still prevails today. "Extreme hours became a way for men to compete to establish whose is bigger," Joan Williams, a law professor at the University of California Hastings College of Law, told me.

This dismissive view of sleep continued on into the Second Industrial Revolution, about 100 years later. Here we see the telegraph, railroads, the further spread of electricity, the growth of the steel industry, factories, and assembly lines that enabled mass production and distribution. We also see sleep become even more derided, with the hero of the age, Thomas Edison, all but declaring a war on sleep. Calling sleep an "absurdity," he predicted in 1914 that "a million years from now man won't go to bed at all," and declared that "nothing is more dangerous to the efficiency of humanity than too much sleep." He concluded by saying that "everything which decreases the sum total of man's sleep increases the sum total of man's capabilities." Point made, Mr. Edison!

In the late 20th century, with the rise of computer technology and the digital world bringing about the Third Industrial Revolution, our compulsion to cheat sleep accelerated. Technology allowed us to become much more productive, but also exacerbated our collective delusion equating sleep deprivation and burnout with dedication and hard work. As the finance industry rose, its disregard for sleep was summed up in the slogan that Citibank rolled out in 1978: "The Citi Never Sleeps." Nor, by extension, should you. And people took the sentiment to heart. According to Juliet Schor, in her book The Overworked American: The Unexpected Decline of Leisure, by 1987 people were working 163 hours more per year than in 1969.

Now we're finding out just how wrong Edison -- and his attitude toward sleep that continued for another century after him -- was. What the new ever-growing mountain of sleep science conclusively tells us is that Edison had it exactly backwards: everything that increases our sleep also increases our capabilities.

In addition to our health and well-being, the capabilities that sleep enhances -- creativity, our ability to handle stress and anxiety, memory consolidation, learning, decision making, emotional intelligence and cognitive functions -- are exactly those that will be most needed as we enter the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Our acceptance -- and even celebration -- of sleep deprivation and burnout has always been costly, but it's never been more necessary to put it behind us once and for all.

In the Fourth Industrial Revolution, human beings will need to be back in the center, as Schwab put it. And anything -- including and especially sleep -- that makes us more human and able to connect with who we are will be more valuable. The Internet of Things will need human beings at the center. No longer cogs in a machine or simply stations in an assembly line, employees of the Fourth Industrial Revolution will need to maximize their creativity, resilience, and ingenuity.

That's because as the world around us becomes smarter, we need to become wiser. The group behind the Trillion Sensor Summit, held in Palo Alto in 2013, predicts 2030 as the year when we'll have in place a trillion sensors connecting our world, and us to our world.

And it goes beyond smart products. This new networked world will include 3-D printing, nano and biotechnology, cloud computing, drones, smart energy systems, and the growth of the peer-to-peer and shared economies. "The Fourth Industrial Revolution will transform everything from how we learn, work, live and socialize, to the way we see the world and our role in it," writes the World Economic Forum's Stephanie Thomson.

A 2015 report by GE and Accenture described what it calls "the Industrial Internet" as "tight integration of the physical and digital worlds. The Industrial Internet enables companies to use sensors, software, machine-to-machine learning and other technologies to gather and analyze data from physical objects or other large data streams -- and then use those analyses to manage operations and in some cases to offer new, value-added services."

This makes it clear that, far from being pushed aside by accelerated automation, human beings will be more necessary than ever. As Gunter Ziebell, the production unit leader of a new high-tech Siemens factory in Amberg, Germany, put it: "The smart factory will be very different from its predecessors, with a much flatter management structure. In the Amberg factory, employees can start their own projects and get bonuses if they work out. "If a digital factory is being managed top-down ... you wouldn't get many advantages from it."

We often hear about robots and artificial intelligence, and how the automation of jobs will have devastating consequences for companies and workers. But in Davos, Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard provided some valuable perspective: "Machines don't feel gratitude. They don't feel hatred. They just do what they're programmed for, even if they're quite incredibly smart...They can help solve some of the technical problems, to alleviate poverty, to do all kinds of things, but I don't think they're going to replace the core of humanity, which, for me, is goodness."

The need for creativity will be everywhere. And one of the biggest challenges of this new smart world, with everything talking to everything, is that someone has to be able to make sense of all that data. "There's no benefit to making something smart," Siemens' Dieter Wegener said, "without it making sense."

And human beings will be the ones making sense of it all. Our brains are the original smart technology, able to synthesize vast amounts of data and external stimuli into coherent and actionable information. And though much mystery remains, we know a lot more now about what makes this possible -- and sleep is right at the center. That's when all that random data becomes knowledge, when all that accumulated experience becomes wisdom.

We're not machines; we need downtime. But so, it turns out, might some machines, as new findings from sleep science inspire researchers from other fields. Demis Hassabis is an artificial intelligence researcher whose company DeepMind was bought by Google in 2014. DeepMind's mission is to use artificial intelligence and insights from neuroscience to help solve some of the world's biggest problems. As they are making advances in artificial intelligence, Hassabis and his team are being driven by a key insight summarized by artificial-intelligence expert Stuart Russell: "Basically a machine that sleeps and dreams learns more and performs better in the long run than one that is always awake. What it means for a machine to sleep is to essentially switch off its direct connection to perception and action, while to dream means to repeatedly replay experiences in order to extract the maximum learning signal from them." As Hassabis told me, "It is a paradox. We think of sleep as an inefficient use of time, and in fact it is the most efficient use of time in terms of learning and memory."

Like the First, Second and Third industrial revolutions, the Fourth will bring with it unprecedented gains. But it will also bring new challenges. To maximize the former and minimize the latter, we'll need all the wisdom we can muster. When, based on all the new scientific findings, we make room for sleep at the center of our lives, we exponentially increase our ability to put human beings -- with all our wisdom, creativity, and empathy -- at the center of our world, and of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.