Sleep as basic human need
As life gets busier, the combination of urban life and increasing noise pollution means people all over the world are reporting sleep problems.
As life gets busier, the combination of urban life and increasing noise pollution means people all over the world are reporting sleep problems. Having so many tired people around is no snoozing matter. It costs billions in lost work productivity and fatigue has been partly to blame in major calamities like the Exxon Valdez Oil spill and the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. And then there's the personal cost to one's mental and physical health.
Someone who knows all about this is Professor Kevin Morgan, Director of the Clinical Sleep Research Unit at Loughborough University in the United Kingdom. Professor Morgan says the tension between one's personal needs and the needs of business were undeniable.
"On the one hand the modern world tends to be, certainly in its urban form, noisy - traffic noise, aircraft noise. On the other hand there are requirements for individuals, there are levels of noise which are simply incompatible with sleep.
Photo above right: Sleep professor Kevin Morgan
I think personally this is a broader social health issue. People have the right to access facilities that will deliver quality of life and quality of sleep is one of the fundamental pillars of quality of life. If we want society to function properly and if we want individuals to function properly in society, we have got to safeguard their sleep."
Commenting on the situation in Japan where people work such long hours they are at risk of karoshi, or death from overwork, Professor Morgan says there's a fundamental paradox.
"One of the interesting cultural features of Japan that makes it quite distinct from Northern Europe, for example, is the tolerance of sleep in what...would be considered inappropriate times and inappropriate places [by other cultures]. People in Japan are quite happy to sleep almost anywhere.
They sleep in subways, they sleep in coffee shops, they sleep in bookshops, they sleep in the street. I'm not talking about people sleeping rough. I'm talking about business executives simply taking sleep where they think they need it. Now, it's an interesting paradox that a society which is so tolerant of sleep can be so disruptive
of sleep[and] so dismissive of the need for sleep."
Professor Morgan says working long hours does not mean you are more productive.
"The longer you work, you deliver poorer and poorer quality work output. Nobody is really gaining. "
Aside from lost productivity, a lack of sleep poses a dire disk to an individual's health. Above left: Sleeping Indian man. Photo: Prakhar Amba
"People who have major sleep problems are substantially more likely to have major depressions than people who don't have sleep problems. People who work too hard are already impairing their bodies.
They are more likely to have heart disease, they are more likely to have those conditions that arise from certain forms of inactivity. It does seem to be the case that if you look at very large populations and you look at the people who sleep the least, they, in epidemiological terms, die the fastest."
Moving onto the subject of narcolepsy - a neurological condition where the brain can't regulate a stable sleep-wake cycle - Professor Morgan calls for more education about the disorder. Sufferers often fall asleep at inappropriate times with tremendous social consequences.
"People make terrible moral connections between sleep and sleepiness and sleeping at the right time and the right place. Narcoleptics are judged as people who exhibit ‘laziness' and ‘indolence' and as being of ‘poor moral fibre'."
Professor Morgan rallies against this view, comparing narcolepsy with other disabilities.
"Sufferers should have the right to sleep at work the same as those who are wheelchair-bound should have access to their office."
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