Sleep Deprivation – Societal Causes and Effects

Sleep Deprivation - Societal Causes and EffectsHere is the second guest-post by Heinrich (from March 20, 2005):

Here is the #2 guest contribution by Heinrich (not Heindrocket) of She Flies With Her Own Wings (
Most of this post was inspired by a grand rounds / journal club given by David Dinges about two weeks ago based on years of his own research and large surveys. One line of argument in the presentation that I thought was particularly interesting – one that we as sleep researchers might want to remember when we write grants and perform our research – was that we need to keep in mind the motivations behind why people willingly sleep-deprive themselves, and what we as sleep researchers can therefore offer society when it comes to public policy.
Any number of studies have shown that 7.5 hours out of every 24 hours is about as close to ideal as you can come for sleep duration: cognitive abilities are optimal with this amount of sleep, but also other indices of general health as, for instance, body mass index are ideal with this average amount of sleep (for a no-subscription-required review of these findings, click here).
And yet, significant numbers of people still get too little sleep. Recent surveys have found that beyond anything else, the number one motivator for voluntary sleep deprivation is financially reimbursed work: more so than socializing, spending time with family or spending time doing things for the household. This trend more or less cuts across all ages and genders.
The most recent census and a National Highway Transportation Safety Association study give some insight into when this sleep deprivation might take place, and when its effects can be noticed. The picture that arises is that an increasing number of people are commuting to work earlier than before. As the census shows, commute times have increased for all categories of commuters that spend more than 25 minutes on their way to work, implying that if you live and work in downtown your commute time is unlikely to have changed over the last 10 years. At the same time, the number of people commuting between midnight and 5:00 AM has shown the greatest increase in the last 10 years. These trends could have significant implications on worker productivity.
The NHTSA study additionally shows that drowsy driving occurs at almost any time during the day, and thus, the compunction to work more, and start work earlier may already have its effect in driving safety. The challenges that lie ahead are to ask where else might sleep deprivation be detrimental? In other words, people are working more, but at the expense of sleep duration, so are they really being more productive when they do that? And, given that people will tend to sacrifice sleep for work (something that probably can’t be changed), what can we suggest on a larger, public policy level that might reduce commute time, such as supporting a trend away from people living in outer suburbs and the exurbs?

One response to “Sleep Deprivation – Societal Causes and Effects

  1. I’ve been having insomnia for awhile now. However, just recently I was chatting with folks over at the live forever site at and together we worked through some of my scheduling, diet and exercise routines and I am starting to sleep better. Thanks guys!