Americans not Getting Enough Sleep
March 1, 2017
Filed under InDepth
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Americans don’t get enough rest and they know it. According to a Gallup poll, Americans get, on average, 6.8 hours of sleep a night. The recommended amount of time adults should be sleeping is 7-9 hours. That means that Americans, on average, don’t even get the minimum amount of sleep recommended. This problem is exacerbated for teenagers. The average American teenager needs 9 hours of sleep a night, but gets only 7.
The effects of sleep deprivation are well known, but often ignored. Along with decreased productivity and fogginess, a lack of sleep is strongly linked to increased depression, obesity, and impaired judgement. One study found that the rates of car crashes for teenagers in Virginia Beach, where classes began from 7:20-7:25, were 41% higher than in nearby Chesapeake county, where classes begin at 8:40-8:45. Sleeping less than 8 hours a night has also been linked to a nearly threefold increased risk of suicide attempts.
Numerous attempts are being made to rectify this situation. Schools across the country are changing hours around to allow high schoolers more sleep, and corporations are trying to allow their employees a more healthy “work life balance”. For example, employees at LinkedIn can now take unlimited vacation time, as long as they get their work done. This trend of offering unlimited vacation time began in Silicon Valley, and trendy companies and startups are picking it up. Their logic is that offering employees more flexibility with their time will make employees more productive. But none of this is enough. Sleep deprivation and stress is still a massive problem for Americans more so now than ever. But why is this such a problem in one of the most economically powerful countries in the world?
The answer is that we take cues from the corporate elites on how people should conduct themselves in the workplace. Silicon Valley, the cradle of the unlimited vacation time movement, is one of the biggest offenders of a toxic work culture. Despite their generous hours, employees are always expected to be on call. 55-60 hour weeks are common at these tech companies. This intensive corporate work culture is also evident in the recent Wells Fargo scandal, where employees were expected to make completely unrealistic quotas. In order to cope with the workload, employees created fraudulent bank accounts.
The culture of overwork and under sleep isn’t exclusive to corporate America. It pervades all aspects in American life. All teenagers should be able to relate. One of the most common conversations that can occur in a high school hall just before school is:
“I’m so tired, I only got six hours of sleep last night” always quickly followed by “Oh yeah? Well I got four hours of sleep last night, and I have three projects due tomorrow, a test today, I’m on my seventh cup of coffee, and I just ran a marathon. I’m so tired” Usually the person giving this rant is unaware that no one in the room is impressed or cares. But the fact that this exchange is so common says something about our culture. The implication that one person got less sleep than the next person, and is therefore working harder, is perverted and wrong. Not only is it unhealthy, it shows a lack of time management and self control.