In past Briefs, we’ve discussed the critical importance of sleep for wellbeing (and conversely of the way in which sleep deprivation negatively impacts mental and physical health). In our real-time economy, where consumer businesses strive to meet the 24-hour demand for their services and manufacturers, the number of people working night shifts is increasing and, with this, so is the number of aggregate sleepless nights. Nowadays, almost 20 percent of EU workers are working nights, compared to an average of about 10 percent 10 or 15 years ago.
The trend is similar around most of the world. In the UK, the number of night-shift workers has risen by more than 250,000 in the past five years. Working through the night poses a fundamental challenge to the human body, and therefore to the ability to live a “well life.” It unsettles our biology, forcing us to be active when our brain is telling us to lie down, rest and dream. A growing body of research links a lack of sleep to increased morbidity: An average of fewer than six hours of sleep per night in the long term puts any one of us at a 13 percent higher mortality risk than someone getting seven to nine hours. In addition, shift work puts us at a higher risk for chronic disease and mental illness.