Lack of sleep is linked to several dreaded conditions and diseases including Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, heart disease, obesity, diabetes and poor mental health.
According to professor Matthew Walker, director of the Center for Human Sleep Science at University of California, sleep deprivation is one of the commonest maladies affecting the modern work force and in the UK it is costing the economy more than £30bn a year in lost revenue.
Walker has written Why We Sleep in which he examines the effects of this epidemic.
In an interview with The Guardian Walker said in 1942, less than 8% of the population was trying to survive on six hours or less sleep a night; in 2017, almost one in two people is. The reasons are seemingly obvious. “First, we electrified the night,” Walker says. “Light is a profound degrader of our sleep. Second, there is the issue of work: not only the porous borders between when you start and finish, but longer commuter times, too. No one wants to give up time with their family or entertainment, so they give up sleep instead. And anxiety plays a part. We’re a lonelier, more depressed society. Alcohol and caffeine are more widely available. All these are the enemies of sleep.”
Some of Walker’s findings were that the shorter your sleep, the shorter your life. Adults aged 45 years or older who sleep less than six hours a night are 200% more likely to have a heart attack or stroke in their lifetime, as compared with those sleeping seven or eight hours a night.
Getting too little sleep across the adult lifespan will aslo significantly raise the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
But despite technology being one of the causes of sleep deprivation, Walker believe that Ultimately technology will be sleep’s saviour. “There is going to be a revolution in the quantified self in industrial nations,” he says. “We will know everything about our bodies from one day to the next in high fidelity. That will be a seismic shift, and we will then start to develop methods by which we can amplify different components of human sleep, and do that from the bedside. Sleep will come to be seen as a preventive medicine.”
Read the interview here to find out how sleep deprivation affects the mind and body in many, many ways.