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What’s keeping you up?

24 February, 2020

Sleep deprivation. From making you drive like you’re over the limit to premature skin ageing, there are many reasons to resent it. And research published last week provided yet another: sleep deprivation could be perpetuating social inequality.

It’s long been known that people from poorer backgrounds are disproportionately likely to suffer from heart disease. By pooling data from eight European countries, a new study suggests that this link could be due, in part, to lack of sleep. Those who do shift-work, live in deprived neighbourhoods or have experienced childhood adversity experience more sleep deprivation, which is a major risk-factor for cardiovascular disorders.

This study joins a host of others suggesting that certain groups – including racial minorities, women and those on lower incomes – are less likely to enjoy a good night’s sleep. And by harming concentration and increasing the risk of health and mood disorders, sleep deprivation becomes a vicious cycle for those trying to improve their situation.

So, what’s the solution? According to the study’s authors, we need structural reforms at every level of society: better management of traffic, limiting house-building next to airports and motorways, and (we might add) taking action to minimise or mitigate the damaging effects of shift-work.

Whatever the answer, one thing is certain: inequality is definitely something to lose sleep over.

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