Those that know me are well aware that I take my sleep very seriously. Regularly dubbed the “grandma” of the group, my religious early bedtimes are a running joke amongst my friends. Try to get me out of the house past 11pm? It has to be for something pretty spectacular.

This light-hearted teasing never bothers me – in fact, I embrace the reputation I have developed. More so, I find it puzzling why prioritising sleep is considered ‘strange’ at all. But I am inarguably in the minority: we are currently in the midst of a global sleep deprivation epidemic. 35% of people sleep less than 6 hours a night, whilst over 30% of the population currently suffers from insomnia or another sleep disorder.

So why are so many of us cutting down on sleep? In western culture, there is an unhealthy pressure to “crave more, work more and expect more… and in the process abandon sleep”. In few age groups is this ‘workaholic’ environment more intense than in young people, especially students. Whilst many would simply attribute teenage sleep deprivation to engaging in nightlife activities, late-night studying on light-emitting devices and academic stress are also major culprits.

Sleep: the new health craze?

In a time when it has become fashionable to be health-conscious, when so many of us are mindful of our diets, exercise routines and self-care needs, why is sleep still being viewed as an inconvenience on busy waking lives? Thomas Dekker describes sleep as “the golden chain that ties health and our bodies together” – and it’s time for us all to treat it as such.

If asked whether you would engage in a daily habit that is linked to anxiety, depression and a plethora of severe physical health issues, your answer would probably be “no”. But settling for low quality sleep is doing exactly that. An overwhelming volume of research demonstrates that individuals with prolonged sleep shortage put themselves at greater risk of everything from cancer and heart disease to diabetes and infertility. Other studies reveal that with decreased sleep comes reduced immune function, libido and life expectancy.

Whilst this all sounds alarming, an occasional night of sleep loss can’t do too much harm. Or can it? In fact, being a little tired can have fatal consequences. Considering that someone who’s been awake for 20 hours performs similarly to someone who is legally drunk, it is unsurprising that fatigue increases the risk of an accident by 70%. It is still shocking however, that in the U.S. more people are killed by drowsy driving than drunk driving.

By Jessica Brown