Last month a group of scientists and academics published a report warning against the dangers incurred from a consistent lack of sleep.

The report published by professionals from the universities of Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Manchester and Surrey cautioned that we are being ‘supremely arrogant’ in neglecting to recognize the necessity of regular and good-quality sleep. The report warned that habitual tiredness could lead to ‘serious health problems’ such as cancer, obesity and heart-related illnesses.

La Bella Durmiente via Wikimedia Commons

La Bella Durmiente via Wikimedia Commons

This report came on the tails of the Co-ordinating study evaluating Outcomes of Advising and Counselling in Heart failure (COACH) that found a correlation between continued sleep deprivation and hospitalization.

Dr. Peter Johansson, a heart failure nurse at the University Hospital of Linköping in Sweden, said of the study: ‘Our finding that consistently poor sleep leads to twice as many hospitalisations in patients with heart failure underlines the impact that sleep can have on health.’ Dr. Johansson stressed that what the study highlighted was not the risk incurred after a few nights of poor sleep but that which came about over a prolonged period of time.

This echoed the findings of the May report. Prof Andrew Loudon, from the University of Manchester, saying, ‘You might not notice any short-term changes in your health following circadian disruption, but over a long period of time, the consequences could be quite severe.’

What both reports appeared to indicate was that this is largely a new phenomenon and displays the change of our sleeping habits over the last century towards not only less sleep, but less good quality sleep.

Culture of Sleep Deprivation

Over the last couple of generations there has been a growing assumption that a lack of sleep shows a full and active life. This is most pronounced in high-flying careers where sleep deprivation has been seen to denote resilience, endurance and productivity.
Notable public figures such as Bill Clinton, Donald Trump and Margaret Thatcher have all been cited as requiring four or less hours of sleep per night, and these rumours were fanned by press teams keen to promote the impression that the individual was stronger and more diligent than the average man or woman.

Others may well respond that this belief is nothing new, Napoleon Bonaparte reportedly having replied when asked how many hours sleep people need: ‘Six for a man, seven for a woman, eight for a fool.’

This line of thought is perhaps beginning to change. At least in the UK, Gordon Brown’s habit of sending out emails throughout the night was regarded as more obsessive than productive. There are an increasing number of successful public figures coming out in support of regular full night’s sleep.

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos have both recently lauded a good night’s sleep as the best way to guarantee a productive working day, the latter saying he tries to ensure that he gets eight hours every night.

Whether or not these figures make a difference to our sleeping habits remains to be seen. A rise in sleeping enhancements and products such as memory foam mattresses and mattress toppers, suggest that a slow change in attitude is emerging. Whether it is coming fast enough remains to be seen.

Beyond competitive careers, researchers also warned against digital media, and the rising number of children and young adults that go to bed with smart phones and tablets running next to them.

Prof Loudon looked to governments across the world for a response, saying that ‘society and legislators need to take this on board.’

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