It is certainly the case that in the developed world we are now sleeping considerably less than we did a generation ago. This comes as no surprise as the rise of technology means we can now entertain ourselves into the early hours.
However, the more I read the more I become convinced that a great many modern day ills could be cured if society understood the impact that not getting the correct amount of sleep has on us both in terms of performance at work (or school) and the impact on our health, especially the modern-day pandemic of obesity. It is all too easy to see sleep as a necessary sacrifice but thinking that reducing sleep will enable us to do more could not be further from the truth.
It is generally considered that we require between 7 and 8 hours of sleep a night and that getting less than six hours of sleep has negative consequences on productivity and health. It was with some concern that I came across the results of a 2006 GMTV poll that showed that 19% of us were getting the recommended 8 hours of sleep a night and that 42% of people in the South of England are getting less than 5 hours .
New parents and teenagers are typically the most sleep-deprived people in society. A study for Mother & Baby magazine of 3,000 mothers showed that mothers today average a mere 3.5 hours of sleep in the first 4 months of a child's life (versus 6 hours for their parents) and then just 5 hours after 18 months.
Another study by Actimel and Top Sante magazine in 2007 showed that 75% of women in their 30s are lucky to get 6 hours of sleep a night, 85% of 30-something women frequently feel tired and of those 59% feel tired all the time . These statistics are worrying for the health and productivity of our nation!
The US Government's National Health and Examination survey of March 2007 (18,000 people) showed that those who slept less than 6 hours a night were 23% more likely to be obese than those who slept between 7 and 9 hours. This rose to 50% for those who slept under 5 hours and 73% in those who slept under 4 hours. Boston School of Medicine also revealed that those who slept for less than 5 hours a night were 2.5x more likely to develop diabetes versus those who slept 7 to 8 hour a night.
The Harvard Business review found that a week of sleeping 4 or 5 hours a night induces performance impairment equivalent to a blood alcohol level of 0.1% (the UK drink driving limit is 0.08%). So whilst we applaud those who work long hours we would be less impressed if we saw our colleagues tucking in to a couple of pints of beer before work every day.
The problem is that fatigued people do not believe their performance is impaired even though objective scores …