Sleep, the glorious respite from consciousness, is a tough commodity to find despite being essential to human life. It’s also more important than most people (or even their doctors) give it credit for: On Monday, the American Thoracic Society released new guidelines urging both doctors and patients to recognized the importance of a proper sleep schedule.
“Sleep plays a vital role in human health, yet there is a lack of sufficient guidance on promoting good sleep health,” said Dr. Sutapa Mukherjee, who chaired the committee that came up with the sleep policy statement.
For adults, anything less than six hours per night can be harmful, and chronic sleep deprivation is linked to a whole host of ailments, including metabolic and cardiovascular disease. Sleep deprivation also causes tiredness, which itself claims thousands of lives due to things like drowsy car driving.
Oddly enough, too much sleep isn’t much better – over 10 hours per night, and a different batch of health issues crops up. The ideal amount for adults is somewhere between seven and nine hours, hence the oft-repeated advice to get eight hours of sleep per night.
Children and teenagers are different when it comes to sleep needs – in general, they need more than adults. Teenagers in particular appear to operate on a delayed internal clock, which is why it’s not unusual to find them dragging in the morning and alert well into the night. For them, a change in policy may be in order.
Later school start times, particularly high school, have shown substantial beneficial effects on absenteeism, aggressive behaviors and bullying, and even on academic performance,” said coauthor David Gozal of The University of Chicago. “However, the cost-benefits need to be weighed as far as the implications for the rest of the family, work, commute, etc. such as to generate a compromise in which the school will start as late as possible under the local circumstances.”
In general, more public awareness surrounding sleep is necessary, as it’s a habit most people have to forcibly develop. If humans can learn to eat healthy despite ample temptations not to, sleep is no different.
“At all ages and across all cultures and professions, the public needs to acquire the deep understanding that similar to other healthy behaviors, sleep is not a tradable commodity but rather is a life sustaining physiological function that needs to be as respected and revered as your bank account,” Gozal said.