Sleep, an integral part of human health, plays a crucial role in attention, memory, emotional regulation, work performance, and overall well-being. Despite its importance, the amount of sleep that people get has significantly declined over the past few decades. Worryingly, a considerable percentage of adults, particularly in the United States, are reported to sleep for less than six hours per night. Furthermore, new research from Australia has linked sleep disorders to concerning outcomes, including mental health issues and decreased productivity among young adults.
Changes in Sleep Patterns
A study carried out in 2017 involving 690,000 children from 20 countries revealed that nightly sleep duration decreased by over an hour from 1905 to 2008. The trend is even more evident in adults, where sleep duration has seen a sharp decrease since the 1960s in countries such as Japan, Russia, Finland, Germany, Belgium, and Austria.
Factors Contributing to Sleep Decline
Researchers attribute this shift in sleep patterns to a combination of societal changes, including digitalization and globalization. According to Theun Pieter van Tienoven, a researcher at the Free University of Brussels, the desire to engage in more activities than time permits is a common issue. The widespread use of social media at night, fear of missing out, and exposure to blue light from screens, which disrupts sleep-wake cycles, have also been identified as significant contributors.
Sleep and Stress
Increased levels of stress due to family conflicts, work deadlines, and other challenges disrupt sleep patterns by boosting cortisol, a hormone that regulates stress, metabolism, and wakefulness. “You should never fight with your husband or wife at night — do that in the morning,” advises Monica Andersen, a sleep researcher at the Federal University of São Paulo, Brazil.
Impact of Sleep Disorders on Young People
An Australian study highlights the serious repercussions of sleep disorders in younger people. The research noted links to daytime drowsiness, mental health issues, and motor vehicle accidents. Approximately 20% of young people are affected by sleep disorders, which led to up to 40% greater workplace productivity losses among 22-year-olds compared to their peers without sleep disorders.
Amy Reynolds, an associate professor in clinical sleep health at Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia, shared concerning data. “This is equivalent to total workplace productivity loss [followed up on multiple occasions across 12 months] of about four weeks for young people with clinically significant sleep disorders, compared with less than one week for those without,” Reynolds explained.
Addressing Sleep Disorders
The Flinders study used data from the Raine Study, a long-term health and quality of life examination in Western Australia. The researchers are now focusing on equipping primary care doctors with the necessary resources for evidence-based care and treatment for sleep disorders. An example of this initiative is supporting young people to receive cognitive behavioral therapy, which can reduce the need for sleeping medications or other short-term interventions.
The Importance of Good Quality Sleep
“Sleep is multidimensional,” says Lisa Matricciani, a researcher at the University of South Australia. Quality sleep, according to Matricciani, can be achieved by maintaining a consistent sleep schedule and avoiding stimulants like coffee after 3 p.m. Contrary to popular belief, alcohol, while it may induce sleep faster, causes more disrupted sleep.
This study highlights how important it is to handle sleeping problems in young people. The effects aren’t just health problems, but also greatly affect how well they do their jobs. It shows that focusing on getting good sleep is important not just for general health, but also to help young adults do their best at work.