So a sleep scientist is telling us what we all know.
We’re not getting enough shut eye.
But more worrying is that this epidemic of sleep loss is quite literally killing us.
A host of potentially fatal diseases are being caused by our body’s reaction to lack of rest.
Professor Matthew Walker, director of the Centre for Human Sleep Science at the University of California, Berkeley, has revealed that sleep deprivation affects “every aspect of our biology” and is widespread in modern society.
And yet the desire to get a decent night’s sleep is often stigmatised as a sign of laziness, he said.
Modern life makes it impossible for us to rest – increased screen time, longer commutes, more stress and anxiety, a tendency to consume large amounts of caffeine or alcohol. And less than seven hours a night counts as sleep deprivation.
Among other health issues, this has been linked to cancer, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, obesity and poor mental health.
Professor Walker, who is originally from Liverpool, said: “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.
“No aspect of our biology is left unscathed by sleep deprivation. It sinks down into every possible nook and cranny. And yet no one is doing anything about it. Things have to change: in the workplace and our communities, our homes and families.”
Professor Walker’s new book Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams is due out next month.
And he prioritises sleep in his life, explaining: “Once you know that after just one night of only four or five hours’ sleep, your natural killer cells – the ones that attack the cancer cells that appear in your body every day – drop by 70%, or that a lack of sleep is linked to cancer of the bowel, prostate and breast, or even just that the World Health Organisation has classed any form of night-time shift work as a probable carcinogen, how could you do anything else?”
But while many of us would reach for the quick fix of sleeping tablets, these are rarely useful in helping insomnia. Taken regularly, they can stop working as our body builds up a resistance to them – and even worse, regular use of sleeping pills has been linked with an increased risk of death.
So how can we help ourselves to enter the land of nod?
If you find you have trouble, try these simple steps to snoozing:
Start a slumber diary
Try to note down when you turn the lights off, and roughly what time you fall asleep, how often you wake and your sleep quality. Your averages will provide your normal pattern
Eradicate sleep stealers
Get rid of late night stimulants, like television and coffee. Find a way to relax, away from bright lights. Turn off your mobile phone. Remove any distractions and create a calming atmosphere before you close your eyes.
Break bedtime habits
If you’re always getting up for the toilet, reduce your fluid intake before bed. Avoid daytime naps. Don’t go to bed with something worrying you – try to sort it out.
Here’s Dr Sarah Jarvis, a member of Beattie's health advisory board, with more insight into the issue.
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