Considered a wise man and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, Benjamin Franklin promoted the value of sleep when he famously wrote, “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man health, wealthy, and wise.” Unfortunately, people simply aren’t getting enough sleep these days, as insomnia and a whole host of other sleep disorders continue to plague society.
The scary part? Things keep getting worse.
A recent article published in the New Yorker revealed startling information about how and why both children and adults are sleeping less and less. This phenomenon has been documented for over 100 years.
Over the last 50 years, sleep duration on work nights has continued to drop, falling from eight-and-a-half hours to slightly under seven, according to Charles Czeisler, chief of the Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. While 31% of people sleep less than six hours a night, 69% report insufficient sleep. Lisa Matricciani, a sleep researcher at the University of South Australia, reviewed sleep data from children from 1905 to 2008 and found that children have lost roughly a minute of sleep each year.
So what happens when people don’t get enough sleep? The consequences can be fatal.
According to Harvard neurologist and sleep medicine physician Josna Adusumilli, those who sleep six hours a night — the average amount of time Americans sleep — for twelve consecutive days cognitively and physically perform the same way as someone who has been awake for 24 hours straight.
The same effect can been seen by those who sleep four hours each night for six consecutive days. When person goes without sleep for 24 hours, their performance is nearly indistinguishable from someone with a blood alcohol content of 0.1%. Simply put, “normal” amounts of sleep deprivation can make you perform as if you were drunk — and not in a fun way.
Slightly more than 30% of Americans sleep six or less hours a night, meaning at least one-third of the population is unknowingly suffering from serious sleep deprivation. Without sleep, the human body literally begins to fall apart. Sleep deprivation has been linked to a whole slew of physical and mental disorders, including anxiety, depression, weight gain, memory loss, increased risk of cancer, and a buildup of proteins in the brain that is commonly associated with Alzheimer’s.
For example, those who suffer from untreated cases of sleep apnea — a sleep disorder that causes breathing to repeatedly stop — face a risk of stroke that is four times higher than those who receive treatment or aren’t afflicted.