Sleep is something we all have in common - it's one of humanity's great unifiers. It binds us to one another, to our ancestors, to our past, and to the future. No matter who we are or where we are in the world and in our lives, we share a common need for sleep. And right now, we're in a sleep crisis.
Here are just a few statistics that point to the depth of this crisis in the United Kingdom. In 2011, 32% of people surveyed said they had averaged less than seven hours of sleep a night in the previous six months. By 2014 that number had rocketed up to 60%. Another survey showed that one in five employees had recently missed work or come in late because of sleep deprivation. The researchers estimated that this is equivalent to a loss of more than 47million hours of work per year, or a £453million loss in productivity. And almost a third of all UK employees reported feeling tired every morning.
At the same time, in the last four decades, science has validated much of the ancient wisdom about the importance of sleep. We've made incredible discoveries about all the things going on in our brains and our bodies while we're sleeping, and these findings have fuelled a sleep renaissance, in which the power of sleep to profoundly affect virtually every aspect of our lives is beginning to be recognised.
One of the most important recent findings is that sleep is essentially like bringing in the overnight cleaning crew to clear the toxic waste proteins that accumulate between brain cells during the day. Dr Maiken Nedergaard, a codirector of the Center for Translational Neuromedicine at the University of Rochester, has studied the mechanism underlying these cleaning functions. "It's like a dishwasher," she said. Just as we wouldn't eat off dirty dishes, why should we settle for going through the day with anything less than the full power and potential of our brains?
The combination of all the new science and the proliferating casualties has led to significant recent shifts around sleep. For example, in response to the problem of sleep-deprived students - a problem by no means unique to the UK - one high school in North Tyneside, England, moved the school's start time from 8:50 a.m. to 10 a.m. and found that student test scores improved significantly. And during the 2016-17 school year, nearly thirty-two thousand students from one hundred secondary schools will take part in "Teensleep," an Oxford experiment to study school times. To combat drowsy driving, another global sleep-related crisis, UK drivers pass by signs on the highways reading "Tiredness Can Kill, Take a Break" (a campaign we in the United States should absolutely borrow). And to illustrate that athletes are way ahead of the curve in discovering that sleep is the ultimate performance enhancer, the Southampton football club has its own sleep app, which players use each morning to log the previous night's sleep. If a player's sleep-quality level drops, team officials will intervene. The Manchester City football club has a new £200million training centre that includes 80 bedrooms. The team sleeps in the training centre the night before home matches--a recognition by the coaching staff that sleep isn't just for training but an integral part of game-day preparation.
What truly makes the Sleep Revolution transformative is inviting more and more voices to join the conversation. Because from the moment we're born until the moment we die, we're all in a relationship with sleep. And we all have stories to tell.
So we want to hear from you. To join the conversation, email our UK blog team at firstname.lastname@example.org to share your story. You can use the following prompts to get you started:
- Are you happy with your relationship with sleep?
- Do you wake up recharged and ready to go?
- Have you had a wakeup call (as I did)?
- Was there a time when sleep deprivation affected your health or your judgment?
And please share your story, and your photos, on your social media channels, using the hashtag #sleeprevolution.
- What's on your nightstand? Use the hashtag #OneNightStand
- The one thing you can't sleep without.
- Your best sleep tips.
- The last thing you do before you go to sleep each night (#LastThing)
- The first thing you do when you wake up (#FirstThing)