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The dangers of sleep deprivation -

Are you aware of the public epidemic that is as bad as smoking?

There’s a good chance that you are already a victim of this epidemic and that you are running the risk of higher levels of anxiety and depression, heart disease, stoke, cancer, diabetes and being involved in accidents. It can make prematurely age your skin and your brain. It adversely affects your thinking and your memory and it has been linked to dementia. It can lead to obesity, higher overall mortality and reduced quality of life. What is it, you ask? Sleep deprivation!

Do you suffer from the public epidemic that is as bad as smoking?Click To Tweet

In the US forty percent of adults, and nearly all teenagers do not get enough sleep. In the UK Professor Russell Foster of the University of Oxford recently stated that “in the same way that we frown upon smoking I think we should start to frown upon not taking our sleep seriously.”

Shift workers are particularly at risk. Studies have indicated that:

  1. after 15 years of shift work, a person’s risk of stroke raises by 5% for every additional 5 years
  2. shift workers have a 40% higher risk of cardiovascular disease
  3. levels of diabetes are 50% higher amongst shift workers than day workers
  4. shift workers are have a 50% higher risk rate of getting cancer
  5. shift work can cause gastrointestinal problems
  6. shift work can cause fertility and pregnancy problems
  7. levels of depression are higher in shift workers.

That is a scary list. I hesitate to add the study that found that  after ten years of shift work workers’ brains had prematurely aged by 6 years! However it should be noted that most of these ill-effects happen after many years of shift work. If you are a shift worker then visit your doctor to discuss ways of staying healthy in your job.

“Sleep, those little slices of death — how I loathe them,”
Edgar Allen Poe

What is a major culprit of this epidemic? You’re looking at it. No, not the fascinating content of this blog (or at least not entirely!), rather the device that you’re reading it on. Smart phones, tablets, laptops, ebook readers, PC screens and energy efficient light-bulbs emit blue-wavelength light. The problem here is that the body has evolved in an environment where blue light only comes from the sun, therefore it has usefully served us as an indicator for when to be awake. By bathing in artificial sunlight during the hours of darkness we are throwing our circadian rhythms, or sleep cycles, out of whack. The inherently addictive nature of social media that ensures that we continuously check our account for that next cute cat or baby video only exacerbates the problem.

Sixty percent of British adults reported that their late night smart phone and computer use meant that they regularly get less than seven hours sleep. Seven hours is considered the minimum for adults. Somewhere between seven and nine hours is the optimum, depending on an individual’s own requirements. For teenagers this can vary from eight and a half to ten hours. Unfortunately, teens love tech.

So should we all invest in candles and ban the 21st century from our homes after sunset? Thankfully there are other things that we try first:

  • Limit your screen time. Try to shut down all devices at least an hour before bedtime, but the more time you give the better.
  • Reduce artificial light by using spot lighting from lamps instead. Try to keep just enough light that you can navigate without hurting yourself but not so much that it looks like noon.
  • Establish a sleeping ritual.  As well as your usual preparations try to incorporate some ways to relax, like gentle stretches, a bath or reading a book. This tells your body that it should get ready for sleep
  • Read a book, but an actual paper one, not an ebook! Even a few minutes of reading can get you relaxed and primed for sleep.
  • Write down any problems or worries that you may have. This can help reduce the risk of you obsessing about them at bedtime.
  • Exercise regularly but not too soon before bed. Intensive exercise should be reserved, where possible for earlier in the day.
  • Watch your caffeine intake. Try not to have coffee after 2pm. Or 3pm. This is definitely my last cup!

To succinctly sum up: Sleep is essential. If we skip it we suffer.

Here’s an infographic to hammer the point home 🙂

The Dangers of Sleep Deprivation

The Dangers of Sleep Deprivation

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Image by Neumorin. Infographic by Lena Long

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