Did you know that sleep-loss costs the Canadian economy about $21 billion a year?
At least a third of us aren’t getting enough sleep. As we plan our days with work and social outings, sleep is often just something we get whenever possible.
Professor Matthew Walker, director of the Centre for Human Sleep Science at the University of California, Berkeley has called our society’s sleep problem a “catastrophic sleep-loss epidemic” that touches every aspect of our daily lives.
Here is why we all need to start making sleep a top priority.
Long-term Health Risks
The impact of sleep-loss goes well beyond feeling tired and yawning all day. Depriving our bodies of sleep has been linked to increased odds of:
- Heart disease
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Mental health issues
Many experts believe that bad sleep habits are just as harmful to your health as bad eating habits.
A Nationwide Safety Problem
When you don’t get enough sleep, your reaction times are delayed and your decision-making is impaired. This can make you a huge safety risk when you’re at work or on the road.
Recent data reveals that sleep-deprived employees are 70% more likely to be involved in a workplace incident. If the employee is operating heavy machinery, they’re a serious threat to themselves and anyone around them. The results can be catastrophic.
In fact, if you’re driving after you’ve been awake for 18 straight hours, you’re just as dangerous as someone with a Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) level of 0.05. In Canada, 0.08 is considered legally intoxicated. If you pulled an all-nighter and you’ve been awake for 24 straight hours, your mental state is equivalent to a BAC of 0.10.
Now consider that about half of all parents with children under 6-months-old are only getting between 1-3 hours of sleep per night. That number may not surprise you if you have a baby. But think about how many dangerously sleep-deprived new parents are on the road right now.
The Laziness Stigma
We need to prioritize getting enough sleep on the same level that we prioritize getting enough food, water, and exercise. Sleep is just as important and we need to change the way we think about it.
However, right now, getting eight hours of sleep is classified as self-care or a treat. Spending money on a new PerfectSense memory foam mattress is seen as an indulgence. These things are necessities, not luxuries!
Part of the problem is that most of our society has a skewed idea of how much sleep our bodies actually need. We say things like we’re capable of “getting by” on six hours of sleep.
“Getting by” means we can get through our days and do our jobs with the help of some coffee. We might even have enough energy to hit the gym, go out for dinner, or play with the kids.
We feel pretty good during the day and this is the same level of sleep that our family and friends say they’re getting. But, make no mistake about it, six hours of sleep is not healthy. Our bodies and brains have been deprived of the opportunity to rest and recover properly.
What Can Be Done?
This is an incredibly difficult issue to combat because sleep happens in our spare time and it’s hard to regulate what we all do in our spare time. Governments can’t very well decree a national bedtime of 9:30. “Everyone get to bed!”
However, governments can invest more in healthcare and raising awareness of sleep-loss as a massive health concern. This is how we can start to break down stereotypes that people who prioritize their own sleep are lazy or self-absorbed. This is also how we spread the word that “getting by” on six hours of sleep is actually hurting our minds and bodies.
Employers can also do their part to help their employees stay healthy. They can do things like offering flexible work hours, ample vacation time/ sick days, wellness programs, and work-from-home days to encourage their employees to take care of themselves and get the rest they need.
Ultimately, however, it will fall on every one of us to make the personal decision to take our sleep seriously and take the first step to a healthier lifestyle.