Insufficient sleep increases the risk of heart disease and catching the flu during an epidemic

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Both a lack of sleep, less than four hours, and too much sleep can affect quality of life. These are some of the conclusions that emerge from the Report on Healthy Sleep: the Impact of Sleeping Well on the Health of People and Society, a document written by the Global Sleep Observatory of Catalonia in partnership with the Institute for Biomedical Research of Lleida, the Universitat Internacional de Catalunya (UIC Barcelona) and the AD Salutem Institute for Healthy Sleep, which was presented this afternoon at CaixaForum Barcelona in an event supported by the Obra Social 'la Caixa'.

Insufficient sleep increases the risk of heart disease and catching the flu during an epidemic

Sleep is a physiological and behavioural phenomenon in which there is a regular, partial and irreversible decrease in consciousness. It is a universal process throughout the animal kingdom, though its function and purpose are not fully known. For centuries, sleep was considered a passive state, an opinion which changed in 1953 with the discovery of REM (Rapid Eye Movement), a stage in which the brain is very active.

Though studies show that sleep plays a key role in maintaining good health, changes in daily living patterns caused by fast-paced lifestyles and increased stress have resulted in lower quality sleep.

Experts recommend between 7 and 8 hours of sleep, in the case of adults, in order to maintain good health and reduce the risk of mortality. During childhood, insufficient sleep is associated with concentration problems, poor academic achievement, hyperactivity and anxiety. In fact, according to some studies, teenagers who stay awake for hours playing video games are more likely to get poor marks at school.

In adults, a lack of sleep is clearly linked to performance in the workplace and both work-related and road-traffic accidents. 7% of drivers have fallen asleep at the wheel, a fact that has caused 3.6% of fatal accidents and 13.2% of accidents requiring hospital treatment, according to a study performed in 19 European Union countries, which also forms part of the report.

The drivers who are most likely to experience sleepiness behind the wheel include professional drivers, who spend the most time on the road, workers with extended shifts, people who drive and get insufficient sleep, particularly young people or individuals who sleep less than six hours, and people with non-diagnosed sleep apnoea.

Though studies demonstrate a connection between sufficient sleep and good health, this reality differs from society’s perception of the matter. We therefore find ourselves in a situation similar to that surrounding tobacco use in the past, in which smoking was associated with power, braveness and independence

The main recommendation to emerge from this report is the creation of the Global Sleep Observatory, which will be presented tomorrow and aims to encourage the study, research, dissemination, education and promotion of healthy sleep. Those involved in this observatory will advocate a change in society’s perception of healthy sleep, which continues to associate sleeping little with bold, productive individuals.

The report was drawn up by Ferran Barbé and Mireia Dalmases, researchers from the Institute for Biomedical Research of Lleida; Maria Dolors Navarro, director of the Albert J. Jovell Institute for Public Health and Patients at the Universitat Internacional de Catalunya (UIC Barcelona); Joan Escarrabill, director of the Department of Health's Master Plan for Respiratory Diseases; and Jordi Varela, director of the Ad Salutem Institute for Healthy Sleep.

The team was advised by Antoni Esteve, from the Ad Salutem Institute for Healthy Sleep, and researchers Xavier Soler, from the University of California, San Diego, Ivan Erill, from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and Joan Bigorra, from the Barcelona Institute of Global Health.