‘Global sleep crisis’ being caused by social pressures – scientists

© David Gray
If work or fun keeps you up late each night, you might be one of the victims of the "global sleep crisis." A new study, using data collected via a smartphone app worldwide, shows modern-day social pressures are eating into more and more of everyone's bedtime.

The data was compiled by scientists at the University of Michigan, who were looking to analyze sleeping patterns around the globe. They used information such as age, gender and even the amount of light that people sleeping are exposed to. 

The aim of the study, which was carried out in 100 countries, was to get a better understanding of how cultural pressures can have the ability to supersede biological rhythms.

"The effects of society on sleep remain largely unquantified," the study stated, which was published on Friday in the Science Advances journal, according to Reuters. 

"We find that social pressures weaken and/or conceal biological drives in the evening, leading individuals to delay their bedtime and shorten their sleep." 

A lack of sleep can lead to an increase in the risk of becoming obese or contracting diabetes or heart problems. The study found that middle-aged men suffer most from sleep deprivation and get less than the recommended eight hours per day, which can also prove to be a danger to society. 

"It is middle-aged men that seem to be getting a remarkably little amount of sleep, and we think that is very significant," the study's lead author, Professor Daniel Forger of the University of Michigan told CBC. "They are behind the wheel driving trucks, driving airplanes and when they do it with so little sleep, that can pose risks to themselves and also to society." 

Around 6,000 people over the age of 15 were asked to send data regarding their sleeping patterns, such as when they went to bed and woke up, as well as how much light they were exposed to. 

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

"If you have very little sleep, you can perform just as well as when you are drunk, so not getting much sleep is indeed a global crisis right now," Forger said. 

The study found that those in Japan and Singapore received the least sleep at seven hours and 24 minutes, while those living in the Netherlands got the most at eight hours and 12 minutes. 

Although this is a difference of less than an hour, even a difference of 30 minutes can have an impact on a person’s health and how they are able to function. 

"Impaired sleep presents an immediate and pressing threat to human health," the study mentioned, according to Reuters. 

However, a recent study showed that getting too much sleep may not be good for you, as those sleeping for more than eight hours face a higher risk of dying from heart disease. 

Although previous studies had shown that a lack of sleep was linked to stress, increased blood pressure and the secretion of adrenaline – all of which are factors of an increased risk of heart disease – the effects of too much sleep on heart disease came as a surprise. 

“We don’t know which mechanism can explain a direct causal link between long sleep duration and an increased risk of dying from coronary heart disease,” lead author Dr. Linn Beate Strand said in a statement.