Sleep… everybody does it. Does anybody do it right? What's clear is that experts agree that sleep is essential for health.
Sleep deprivation has a negative impact on concentration, mood, personality and judgment. It can also increase our risk for medical conditions such diabetes, high blood pressure and vascular disease. Furthermore, the effects will accumulate over time. As the days and weeks and months go by, the impact will continue to increase. Many times sleep deprived individuals themselves are not aware of the full impact.
- Boston University Medical Center
Every authority seems to agree that sleep is an important part of wellness. Yet, how many times have we heard this, “I’m fine on just 4 hours a night.” “I’m so tired.” “I’ll be awake as soon as I have my coffee.”? I’ve actually said all this just this morning.
We’re all sleep deprived. Well, not all of us. I am. And, chances are, you are, too.
“More than a third of American adults are not getting enough sleep on a regular basis”
-Center for Disease Control
And the hits just keep on comin'. According to the CDC 6 out of 10 Americans have a chronic disease. So we’re already unwell, and lack of sleep worsens most conditions.
“Sleep, new research reveals, is a master regulator of health. A sleep deficit or disruption can create wide-ranging havoc, compromising our immune system, causing inflammation, and damaging our genes. Losing just an hour of sleep a night increases risk of cancer, heart attack, stroke and type 2 diabetes.
Lack of sleep can also lead to memory loss, negatively affect people’s reflexes and decision-making skills, cause hearing loss and psychiatric disease, and impede sexual function.”
What are the drivers for our relationship to sleep and what affects our behavior?
We’re in need of downtime
Netflix and chill…. and repeat. A lot of us are in a constant state of “doing” (working, parenting, overextending socially or overpromising our time) and our brains need a break. The endless internet scroll or binge watch at the end of a day lets our conscious brains take a break, but it also keeps us up, disallowing the real rest and rejuvenation that comes with sleep.
Technology ≠ Sleep Hygiene
Our circadian rhythms are messed up. The blue light our devices emit during a Candy Crush Saga marathon or an endless YouTube video sojourn doesn’t set us up well to get enough sleep.
Culturally speaking, Busy > Lazy
Getting enough sleep isn’t laziness, it’s basic self-care. However, there is a cultural phenomenon of pride being equated with being up and “producing” whether that be from a late night of work, or an early productive morning. We don’t have the same oomph from “bragging” about a solid 8 hours.
Future of Sleep Predictions
The future of sleep is, in short, manipulating sleep, measuring sleep and more productive sleep.
Want to create more vivid dreams, or at least be able to control what you’re dreaming about (called lucid dreaming)? Well, if you’re open to being shocked with low levels of electrical current continuously through the night, you’re in luck. This technology is being developed currently to help people with nightmares and night terrors, but it seems ripe for recreational use. Imagine more vivid dreaming as an entertaining escapist venture or a promise to charge to your creativity.
More Productive Sleep
Scientists are studying the part of the human genome responsible for “light sleep” and working on genetic therapy to lessen the need for longer hours of sleep. What this means is people will be able get more effective sleep over shorter periods of time. Apparently there are military outfits funding this research in the hopes of building supersoldiers that don’t need to sleep as much (am I alone in thinking this is the beginning of a supervillain origin story?). But imagine the opportunities in this vein for genetically modified sleep that promotes better healing during deep sleep for patients with trauma, stroke or illness. Even our culture’s more chronic conditions (diabetes, heart disease) might be able to benefit from this sort of therapy.
Every morning my husband looks at his Fitbit app and comments on his sleep measurement. “I was laying in bed for six and a half hours but it looks like I only got five hours of sleep. See this spike in activity here? I bet that’s when I got kicked in the back...” For you, dear readers, I will say that the kicker in question is my four-year-old daughter and not me (I’m reasonably sure). What if my husband could know for sure what is causing his sleep loss? There are companies working on pajamas that do physical tracking across the body for more insight as to what parts of us are doing during sleep. There are also mattresses in development that not only measure movement, body temperature and disturbances, they can respond accordingly. Imagine a smart bed that can connect to your thermostat to keep your body at a predetermined temperature, vibrate or undulate in a way to lull you to sleep or gently wake you up. If we go a step further, this sort of technology can be used to measure and adjust conditions that affect your oxygen level, your rem cycles, and more. Maybe it can even be used to get someone to roll back over to their side or redistribute the blankets. One can dream, can’t they?
So what part does healthcare need to play to help us understand sleep in the future?
Patient portals will increasingly use tracking tools for symptoms, medication and treatments. Sleep should be added into the mix with the platform able to track sleep, pull in sleep tracking data from wearables and intelligently offer context as to how your sleep habits are contributing to any current medical conditions.
Sleep education will be very important. With our common chronic issues (obesity, heart disease, stress, diabetes, anxiety and depression) being worsened by a lack of sleep, completing patient education for these conditions with sleep content and resources will help improve outcomes
In most cases, the more their covered population sleeps, the better medical outcomes and the less risk posed to health insurance corporations. With this in mind, being a driver for self-care education and promoting sleep, sleep tracking and the benefits of sleep will be crucial.
Incentivizing sleep in the same type of current fitness incentivization programs can be a part of the education platform. This and providing customers both the platform to measure and the technology to track sleep will be key in the program.
Medical devices and technology products
Create products that can better track the “productivity” of sleep. How much time did I spend in a “healing” state, in a REM state or with specific brainwave activity that helps with X?
Develop products that can measure biological markers to signify too little or the right amount of sleep.
And, in a high-creep factor, create platforms and tools to allow us to study our own sleep, through video visuals, sound and measuring breathing and synthesize the results so we can better understand how our sleep is affecting our health and allows us insight without undergoing invasive studies with doctors.
It seems to me that the final answer for getting more sleep is a major cultural shift where we all have less we feel we “have” to do, value our own health and sanity and let go of our FOMO. It’s 1:30AM as I finish this article up… Maybe I’ll sleep in… Thanks for reading. Sweet dreams.
Propane, Digital Agency
San Francisco, CA
415 550 8692