The working and school day is important. For employees, the working day feeds into the nation's productivity, pays their way via taxes and supports families, as well as our individual social lives. Whilst for school children, without delving too deeply into cliché, the education system is created to make sure students have the adequate tools to succeed in life. If education and employment are so important to both our economy and our development, why then do we not have a national discussion based on facts about the type of quality sleep that can prepare us for the work and school day?
The story of how poor sleep is in Britain was again recently highlighted by SleepRate, the sleep monitoring app. Monitoring a total of 35,000 people globally for five months, SleepRate found that the average Brit will under-sleep by 375 days throughout their adult lifetime. Whilst lower than the global average of 414 days, it should still be worrying that SleepRate also found that in the UK 46% of people consistently wake up early, 54% have trouble even getting to sleep, 78% often feel sleepy throughout the day and 84% regularly feel unrested.
A study by Rand Europe revealed that poor sleep amongst the British workforce is costing the economy up to $50.2 billion a year in lost GDP. This is unsurprising, as the same study found that 35% of the working population slept less than the daily recommended amount - leading to 207,224 workdays lost as a result of sleep-related problems.
Poor sleep is a short-term day to day worry not only because it affects our productivity; it also damages people's ability to form relationships, concentrate and remember key details. But in the long term, it can severely damage someone's health, in turn shortening their lifespan.
Part of the problem has arisen as a result of two misconceptions. The first is that those who sleep well are lazy. As a society, we are guilty of lionising characters as hard working who can stay up through the night beavering away. These are uncommon people, anomalous even. Those who sleep well get more done throughout their day without lapses in concentration. For every sleepless Winston Churchill willing a country on towards metaphorical victory in their daily challenges, there are several Trump's tweeting in the early hours only to regret it when the day begins and they find themselves ill-equipped to deal with the challenges ahead. Sleeping well is not lazy, it represents preparation for the day ahead.
The second misconception people have is that they can make it up on the weekend. This is patently false. A body works best under a consistent sleep pattern. Radically changing a person's body clock throughout the week is similar to being in a state of jet lag, permanently.
The negative effects associated with sleep deprivation should make improving and educating on sleep health a priority issue for the NHS. As a doctor, I know from personal experience that the number of patients seeing their GP due to poor sleep is rising. This is leading to more sleeping tablets being prescribed by doctors, which carry considerable side-effects. Something has got to give.
School days are not built around children's ability to learn. Starting later, at 10am, has widely accepted and proven benefits for young people's ability to learn and retain information. For office working adults, rigid 9am starts inherently assume that everyone is at their peak in the early hours. There is no evidence of this. In fact to the contrary, we know that office spaces with flexible working hours and practices are healthier both physically and mentally.
Last month, September, was the month of the Global Sleep Fix where national organisations like Britain's very own Sleep Council worked to improve people's sleep patterns. But a public health crisis of this magnitude, can't be left to Third Sector Organisations alone.
Whilst we are waiting to for Governments to start taking sleep seriously people, to an extent, can take control of their own sleep health by using free apps such as SleepRate which offers sleep monitoring services and therapeutic solutions. However, in the long term community health care currently sits with underfunded and overworked local councils; to have effective change I believe we need a national good sleep campaign under the auspices of the NHS.Suggest a correction