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Arrogant’ humans urged to get more sleep

This week scientists have warned that we are all getting less sleep than ever before, which is leading to many serious health problems. But can sleep really be that important?

When the emperor of France, Napoleon Bonaparte, was asked how many hours of sleep people need, he stated flatly: ‘Six for a man, seven for a woman, eight for a fool.’
But this week, leading researchers have warned that the idea that we do not need much sleep is ‘supremely arrogant’, and lack of sleep is having serious implications for our health.
Scientists from Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Manchester and Surrey universities say that not enough sleep increases the risks of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, infections and obesity.
Most of us require seven to nine hours every night, but we now get between one and two hours less than we did 60 years ago. This means we actively ‘live against’ our body clocks.
The body clock is a cluster of around 10,000 nerve cells that are buried deep within the brain’s hypothalamus. Natural sunlight coming in through the eyes allows the cells to regulate the body and make us operate with optimum efficiency. The body clock triggers the production of hormones such as cortisol, which makes us alert, and melatonin, released as it gets dark, which helps us sleep, detoxify and replenish our energy levels.
But these natural patterns are being subverted by the artificial light produced by smartphones, tablets and computers. Too much exposure to them in the evening postpones the release of melatonin and makes it more difficult for us to get up next day.
Many famous figures have apparently thrived on a lack of sleep, such as the former UK prime minister Margaret Thatcher, who reportedly needed just three to four hours of sleep each night. One of her biographers claimed her ability to work into the early hours made her ‘the best informed person in the room.’
Yet this new research suggests that during the night, attention levels are at their lowest and the risk of accidents is a lot higher. Some people even claim that nuclear disasters such asChernobyl are caused by people operating on too little sleep.
How seriously should we take this new warning?
Wake up call
Some say this research ignores our ability to adapt to changing times – we are no longer cavemen. City dwellers have been living with artificial light for hundreds of years and our work and play have been long extended into the evening. While it may have made sense at one time for humans to wake up when the sun rose and sleep when it set, this is not necessary today.
But others argue that it is time to take sleep seriously. It is undeniable that our lifestyles have changed due to modern technology, which provides us with an excuse to stay awake rather than switch off. Cheap light is as bad for us as fast food. Going against our natural instincts is dangerously unhealthy.

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Lecturer: Abdulkhaliq Mohamed sheikh Osman-Birmingham UK