As a country, we’re extremely sleep deprived. A lot of us like to get by on as little sleep as we can, day in, day out. But why do we do it? Humans are the only species that purposefully deprive themselves of sleep for no apparent reason. As kids, sleep is imperative and children are always expected to get their daily sleep allowance. But as an adult, it quickly gets drilled into you that the more you sleep, the lazier you are. So, it starts to beg the question. Should sleep be prescribed? Why losing sleep is harming us…
According to sleep scientist Michael Walker, the lack of sleep in our society is classed as an epidemic. With powerful links between lack of sleep and cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, obesity and poor mental health. Michael believes that the only way to stop this catastrophic sleep epidemic is for the government to step in and make sleep a prescription. “No aspect of our biology is left unscathed by sleep deprivation,” he says. “Sleep loss costs the UK economy over £30bn a year in lost revenue or 2% of GDP. I could double the NHS budget if only they would institute policies to mandate or powerfully encourage sleep.”
So, why do we do it?
If there are so many negative impacts from lack of sleep, then why do we do it? In 1942, less than 8% of the population was trying to survive on 6 hours or less of sleep. Fast forward to now, one in two people are sleeping for less than 6 hours. The sudden spike is likely due to an increase in light. Since electric became widely available in the home and workplace, people stay at work for longer, in turn, they stay up later after work to make up for lost time spent at work. Anxiety plays a huge part also. As a whole, we’re a lonelier and more depressed society which plays a massive part in sleep deprivation.
What should be done?
It might be a little while yet until sleep is available as a prescription. But, judging by Michael Walker’s studies, something similar certainly needs to happen. Obviously, there are some things we can all do in the meantime to prevent sleep deprivation.
1) Break the sleep stigma: There’s a lot of stigma around sleeping in general, taking a nap in the afternoon or an extra few hours at the weekend is frowned upon in our society. We should encourage sleeping upon ourselves and others.
2) Listen to your body: If you’re struggling to stay awake throughout the day, you need to sleep more. We tend to forget how tired we felt at work that morning and continue to stay up late the following night. If your bodies telling you you’re tired, have a few extra hours sleep.
3) Encourage others to sleep: If someone close to you seems like they need a few extra hours in bed, tell them. A lot of the time we ignore our own body signals and need encouragement to get what we need.