The Future of Sleep: Sleep Debt and Luxury


Sleep is necessary to function productively and efficiently, however people are sleeping less hours than ever before. There are many health risks associated with having less than 7-8 hours of sleep a night, the most significant being decreased cognitive function which worsens individual performance. The human race is on a constant quest to evolve and better not only themselves but their quality of life, therefore it is surprising that sleep is not a major priority anymore for the average individual.

A study into the amount of sleep necessary for effective cognitive performance was conducted by restricting 3 groups of subjects to sleep four, six and eight hours a night respectively. Brain function was shown to decrease linearly as the days past with hardly any sign of levelling off. Scientists have dubbed this phenomenon as ‘sleep debt’. Similar to financial debt, ‘sleep debt’ has the ability to be repaid, dependant of the severity of such debt.  After a night or two with little sleep, studies show that the brain can fully recover with a few nights of good sleep. However, with long term sleep deprivation on a scale of weeks to months, cognitive function is much slower and therefore requires many more nights of good sleep to recover. In terms of months to years, it is unknown whether brain function can be fully repaired or if it causes permanent damage. With chronic sleep deprivation, sleepiness does eventually level off, therefore awareness of the need for sleep reduces, however impairment continues.

Over the centuries there has been a steady decline in the average number of hours that the average person sleeps. As discussed in Jonatan Crary’s ‘Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep’, “The average North American adult now sleeps approximately six and a half hours a night, an erosion from eight hours a generation ago, and down from ten hours in the early twentieth century”. The even distribution of sleep, work and leisure is no more. Sleep suffers at the hands of longer working hours, even the time for leisure being shortened due to the higher importance placed on work and increased work related, and ultimately financial pressures. In today’s economically driven world, many professionals tend to work with a build-up of sleep debt due to the nature of their work. This has propelled the common mentality that sleep is a luxury rather than a necessity. However, the workplace requires optimum individual performance, something that cannot be achieved without the foundation of a good night sleep.

Sleep is one of the basic human necessities for survival and can be seen as “one of humanity’s unifiers”. However, the ability for individuals to achieve a proper good night sleep is primarily dependant on means. “Getting enough sleep isn’t just a question of valuing sleep enough to go to bed at the right time; it’s a question of going to bed in the right neighbourhood, and in the right body.” Individuals with greater wealth is most likely to not have the same financial pressures as those who have a lower than average income. Generally, the undesirable lifestyle that tends to come with being poor dictates many other factors, numerous studies demonstrating that one is more likely to sleep poorly if they are poor. Sleep has become the ultimate exemplifier of the great divisions within society.


Reference List

AsapSCIENCE (2014), How Much Sleep Do You Actually Need?, video recording, Youtube, viewed 27 Ausgust 2016, <;

Crary, J., 2013. 24/7: Late capitalism and the ends of sleep. Verso Books.

Mahdawi, A. 2016, ‘How a good night’s sleep became the ultimate status symbol’, The Guardian, 2 June, viewed online < >


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