We’re facing a global sleep crisis: research

Society is pushing people to ignore their biological cues for sleep and stay awake longer – and it could be pushing toward future health risks.

A new study looking at the sleeping patterns of people across the world shows that we are facing a “global sleep crisis”, where people across the world are not getting enough sleep due to social pressures.

The study, conducted by the University of Michigan, is based on data captured by the ENTRAIN sleep tracking smartphone app.

According to the researchers, biologically our sleep schedule is determined by environmental factors, such as sunset, sunrise and light.

The amount a person sleeps is affected by a group of 20,000 nerve cells, which are located behind the eyes, the researcher said. This cells adjust to how much light they are exposed to, especially natural light, which can cause a person to wake up earlier.

However data from 6,000 app users across the world, shows that our sleeping patterns do not adhere to these schedules, and our cues for sleep are being weakened or ignored completely – likely due to societal reasons.

Professor Daniel Forger, one of the researchers, said that there is an increasing conflict between our bodies telling us to go to sleep, and our own desires to stay awake.

“Society is pushing us to stay up late, our [body] clocks are trying to get us up earlier – and in the middle the amount of sleep is being sacrificed; that’s what we think is going on in this global sleep crisis,” he told the BBC.

Getting enough sleep?

The much-quoted “golden” number of hours of sleep needed is 8 hours, with medical groups across the world saying that 7 hours is the minimum needed to maintain optimal cognitive function.

On top of hampered cognitive functioning, a lack of sleep can lead to a wide variety of health complications, and has even been linked to type-2 diabetes. The long-term effects of our current sleeping habits will not be seen for a few years.

Trying to work on little sleep, however, is the same as trying to work drunk, the researchers said.

The study showed that people in Japan and Singapore received the least sleep at 7 hours and 24 minutes, while those living in the Netherlands got the most at 8 hours and 12 minutes.

The study also showed women slept about 30 minutes more per night than men, and that older people slept more than younger people.

Notably, the study also found that people who slept in natural (sun/moon) light adhered to ‘biological’ sleeping schedules.

South Africa was not included in the study, but according to data from another sleep app – Sleep Cycle – collected in 2015, South Africans were found to be the earliest risers in the world, with the average waking time at 6:24am.

The same data showed that, on average, South Africans only get to bed at 12:20am – meaning we only get just over 6 hours of sleep a day.

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We’re facing a global sleep crisis: research