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Sleep should be better recognized as the important pillar of health that it is.

Our society should place greater emphasis on sleep

In our technology-focused society, the value of sleep is suppressed at increasingly worrisome rates, and it’s incredibly harmful to the well-being of our population. With the chaos of technological advancements and modern life, sleep is just one of the many aspects of health disregarded by our current societal climate. A study conducted by the National Sleep Foundation found that, on average, American adults get just under seven hours of sleep per night, compared to a study conducted in the 1940s, where American adults averaged nearly eight hours nightly. 

In 1942, 84% of American adults got the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep, whereas a study completed in 2013 concluded that 59% of American adults were able to get the recommended hours of rest. For healthy sleep, it’s essential for adults to get seven to nine hours of sleep every night, as your sleep stages and cycles align with this amount of time. 

According to the National Sleep Foundation, sleep is generally divided into two stages: REM (rapid eye movement) and NREM (non-rapid eye movement). NREM is split into three additional parts: the initial stages of falling asleep, light sleep, and deep sleep. Most of your “rest” occurs during deep sleep, as your breathing slows down, your blood pressure drops and your energy is renewed. If you’re only getting a few hours of sleep every night, you’re not achieving adequate REM cycles. At that point, you’re only taking a nap, and your body does not gain the rest required for optimal function. REM sleep is essential to a truly restful night of sleep, where the body can reach a point of rejuvenation. Without giving the body a chance to recharge, over time, it will eventually be too exhausted to work properly. Good sleep is essential to not only your physical health but also your mental and emotional health.

Sleep is a known pillar of health and performance, so why do we, as a collective society, undervalue it? I interviewed five students on campus from a diversity of majors at various stages of progress with their degrees, and the majority (four of five) stated that they felt as though they didn’t get enough sleep every night. I figured the average amongst those four to be six and a half hours of sleep per night. The fifth person I interviewed was a business major who stated he got 10 hours every night. When asked, they all acknowledged how important sleep is but made it clear that it was not a top priority for them.
While having conversations with friends about the subject, one thing I notice is that when sleep is brought up, it’s almost a competition to see who is living the most unhealthy lifestyle. The less sleep you tend to get, the more bragging rights you’re granted, so not only does our society undervalue sleep, but we also encourage this unhealthy behavior. 

 “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” is a common mantra I’ve heard from Gen Z, but it is one of the most harmful. Sleep is essential for a healthy life. Many people, while understanding the importance of sleep, are not getting the sleep they need. However, getting enough sleep is often easier said than done. Our population needs to prioritize our health and bodies, which is rooted in our sleeping patterns. An article published by St. Jude’s Research, states that “sleep is the third pillar of health, along with nutrition and movement— that keeps us healthy and balanced. Insufficient sleep makes us overweight, sick and sluggish.”

Prioritizing sleep each night is not only core for an individual’s health but also for our collective well-being. 

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