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The Epidemic Nobody is Talking About

We are currently in the midst of an epidemic, that is almost global in its nature. It is massively prevalent in western civilisation and it affects every aspect of our being, from birth to death. Its symptoms include Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity and poor mental health.

As well as health implications, this epidemic costs the UK an estimated £30bn a year.

So what is it? Sleep deprivation.

Professor Matthew Walker, director of the Centre for Human Sleep Science at the University of California, Berkeley, has been working on a book for the past 4 years which studies the effect of sleep, from birth right through to death. The book, called ‘Why We Sleep’ is an in depth look into why we sleep, and the positive and negative effects of too much/too little sleep.

Professor Walker says:

‘No aspect of our biology is left unscathed by sleep deprivation, it sinks down into every possible nook and cranny. And yet no one is doing anything about it. Things have to change: in the workplace and our communities, our homes and families.’

And in that quote he touches upon an important point. We often see posters encouraging us to stop smoking, to drink less, to pick up exercise. But when did we last see a poster encouraging us to sleep more? Doctors will readily prescribe sleeping pills, but not sleep itself. According to Professor Walker, this is a societal epidemic, as much as it is a health one.

From a young age we are told that staying up late is ‘cool’, and aiming for a solid night’s sleep is deemed as lazy and unambitious by peers and employers. We are told to work late and rise early otherwise we are not achieving.

The onset of technology has also had a huge effect on our sleep patterns. Smart phones and tablets are bright and stimulate us, and both are easily accessed and used in bed, keeping us awake longer.

To learn more about Professor Walker and his research you can read this, or this article.

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