A good night’s sleep is something we all value. Scientists tell us, and we know from experience, that it refreshes us, helps us perform better, and contributes significantly to health and happiness, especially in children. And yet, there are millions of us suffering from ongoing shortage of sleep.
According to the World Association of Sleep Medicine (WASM), sleep problems add up to a global epidemic that affects 45% of the world’s population.
“Insomnia, obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), restless legs syndrome (RLS), and sleep deprivation significantly impact physical, mental and emotional health, in addition to affecting work performance and personal relationships,” they said, on the fourth annual World Sleep Day on Friday 18th March 2011, when health professionals from WASM and other organizations worldwide came together to deliver the message that sleep is a “human privilege that is often compromised by the habits of modern life”.
The 24/7 Technological Society
When we think about it, these figures are hardly surprising. Over the last two or three decades, the choice of round the clock activity available to the average Westerner today has become overwhelming. We can shop at 2 am, either at the supermarket or online, we can do our banking online 24/7, we can watch any number of films and TV channels or catch up on programs around the clock, we can download games, books and software and start enjoying them without having to wait until the morning.
And then there’s the communications technology through which we make ourselves accessible to others, via mobile or cell phones, internet chats and and social networks like Facebook and Twitter. Over less than a generation our social “interfaces” have multiplied enormously, leading to an ever increasing volume of transactions with a growing number of people.
And all this impacts not only our daytime activity, but damages our sleep environment: it’s much harder to wind down and prepare for sleep when the bedroom is more like a NASA control center than a haven of peace and tranquility.
This is especially evident in the younger generation. Research suggests that as a group, teenagers are experiencing sleep deprivation on an unprecedented scale. A contributing factor is the tide of technology flooding into the bedroom of the average teenager.
Home insurance surveys show that most British children have a games console, a TV, a CD player and a DVD player in their bedroom, which one in five parents now ranks as containing more expensive items than the kitchen or living room. The bedroom is also the room teenagers spend most of their time in, and where they tend to hang out with their friends when they call round.
Calling and texting on cell phones is an especially big stealer of sleep time among teenagers. Doctors in the US are becoming very concerned about the effect this has on their health and development.