Dr Sara Gottfried is, in her own words, an “under sleeper”. In our over-caffeinated, over-worked and gadget-addictedsociety, she’s far from alone: researchers from Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Manchester and Surrey universities have found people are sleeping almost two fewer hours a night than they were in the 1960s – and our health is deteriorating as a result.
“We are the supremely arrogant species; we feel we can abandon four billion years of evolution and ignore the fact that we have evolved under a light-dark cycle,” says Oxford University’s Professor Russell Foster, who worked on the study. “What we do as a species, perhaps uniquely, is override the clock. And long-term acting against the clock can lead to serious health problems.” These problems include an increased risk of cancer, heart disease, type-2 diabetes and obesity.
“Under-sleeping is the next sugar – it’s a health time bomb,” says Dr Gottfried, who says just about every aspect of modern living is stealing our sleep. “Our lives are more hectic than ever, more people live in cities where they’re less attuned to light-dark cycles, we binge-watch TV shows, tablets emit sleep-disrupting blue light all evening, and it’s become normal for our bosses to email us at 9pm (they never could 20 years ago). What it means to be available has changed and our sleep is suffering.