We all know that sleep is a crucial part of both mental and physical health. Proper sleep hygiene helps keep our immune systems in check and our minds working their best. But even as the cultural conversation around the importance of sleep has grown in recent years, it’s interesting to note how often the topic is framed from an individual point-of-view. There are plenty of articles that enumerate the many ways insomnia can negatively impact your health, and what a solid eight-hours a night could do to improve your personal well-being. While these facts are true, it’s important to take a step back every once in a while and look at the bigger picture too. Sleep deprivation doesn’t just affect individual people—it has an effect on society as a whole. And finding real solutions to this wide-spread problem requires us to recognize and explore all the external factors that may be contributing to it as well.
Most people are aware of how a poor night’s sleep can ruin your day. You get up feeling groggy and irritable; it’s difficult to pay attention and keep your focus. Many people are also aware of how sustained lack of sleep can create even more problems: it puts you at higher risk for a number of long-term health problems like diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. Chronic poor sleep has also been shown to slow down your metabolism and increase your chances of catching a cold. All of these issues may feel like personal problems, things you and you alone have to deal with. But of course, none of us live in a vacuum—and the way you feel, both emotionally and physically, can have a ripple effect on everyone you interact with.
For example: lack of sleep affects your judgement and attention. When these are compromised, it increases the chances of workplace errors and traffic accidents—which, in turn, can put other people in harm’s way. In fact, according to estimates from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there were nearly 91,000 car crashes in 2017 that were the direct result of driver fatigue—leading to an estimated 50,000 injuries and nearly 800 deaths.
While the effects of sleep deprivation are not always immediately fatal, they are significant in many other ways as well. Lack of sleep has a direct effect on your mood and decision-making; it can make you more irritable and impatient. This doesn’t just sour your day, it colors the way you engage with others. You may be less likely to compromise with your colleagues on an idea, or quicker to snap at your local barista. The same goes for the physical effects too. Health problems that are linked to poor sleep don’t just affect how individual people feel, they can also contribute to family financial strain or put added strain on our already over-extended healthcare system.
This may seem like a lot of pressure. Insomnia can be hard enough to deal with, without having to think about how it’s impacting the community around you. And in some ways, that may be true. But, that same logic may give some people the permission they need to really focus on taking care of themselves. Doing what you need to do to get a good night’s sleep is not a selfish act; it’s actually an important way to contribute to the overall wellness of your community.
Because, of course, by thinking about the impact that widespread sleep deprivation has on society—we can also think about the inverse. What would the impact of widespread restfulness be? Can we imagine a world in which everyone was able to get good quality sleep? What would we, as a society, be able to achieve if everyone was healthier and more alert? How would we interact with each other?
And again, we can take that one step further. If we can recognize how sleep impacts society, we can also see how society impacts sleep. While there are plenty of tips and life hacks designed to help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer, it’s important to remember that many of the root causes of sleep deprivation come from external forces. Things like chronic stress, trauma, financial woes - they can all generate or exacerbate mental health issues that make it even more difficult to get the rest you need. And the same goes for physical health too; injury and illness may also impact the quality of your sleep, making it more difficult for your body to heal. Part of solving this sleep crisis will require addressing all these contributing factors as well as thinking critically about the types of internal and external pressures society perpetuates that can lead to stress and ultimately, lack of sleep. Focusing on your own sleep health contributes to the greater good, but it’s just as important to find ways to help others achieve better sleep as well.
Good quality sleep should not be a luxury, limited to a lucky few. It is essential to the overall health of not just individual people, but society as a whole. By recognizing how interconnected we all are—how our actions may affect others and vice versa—we can begin to help everyone get the rest we all need.
This story originally appeared in eNews. Click here to get Sleep Retailer eNews delivered straight to your inbox.