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Monday, 15 April, 2002, 13:31 GMT 14:31 UK
24/7 culture poses health risk
One way to keep healthy
The 24-hour, round-the-clock culture could lead to widespread health problems, experts have warned.

A conference at the Royal Society of Medicine in London heard that disturbed sleep patterns could have a long-term impact on health - and affect mood and performance.

When we deprive people of sleep we see changes in their performance and sensory vigilance

Dr Derk-Jan Dijk
Sleep deprivation can lead to difficulties in regulating blood sugar levels, delegates heard. Shift workers have started to complain about heart and stomach problems.

Dr Derk-Jan Dijk, of the University of Surrey, said it was important for people to realise that going without sleep could put them at risk.

Body mechanisms

He said: "We don't really know how much sleep we need.

"We probably don't even know how to measure that.

"But what we do know is that sleep and its duration are regulated and they are psychological mechanisms in place to ensure that we take the opportunity to get enough sleep.

"When we deprive people of sleep we see changes in their performance and sensory vigilance. We see increases in lapses.

"Some people have reported changes to their regulation of blood glucose and we know from shift work situations in which sleep depravation does occur that there are increases in cardiovascular diseases and gastrointestinal problems."

Dr Dijk blamed the advent of new technology and the leisure boom for an increase in the number of people suffering from sleep deprivation.

Recent studies have showed that Britons were sleeping just over six hours a night rather than the recommended eight.

Burning the candle

Dr Dijk said: "There are so many things that we can do now in the evening hours apart from the theatre and pubs.

"There is television, the internet and people who have secondary jobs or two parents who are working.

"There is a real need for objective data and research on how much sleep we need to maintain optimum performance."

Dr Dijk said it was clear that people still realised how important it was that small children got enough sleep - but they did not apply the same approach to themselves.

"If a child is being difficult at the age of two, three or four, the parent will say that he or she is tired and needs to take a nap.

"On one level we are very much aware of the importance of sleep for the regulation of mood and cognitive social functions but on the other hand, in adults we are sometimes ignorant of what we need."

See also:

10 Feb 00 | Health
Brain 'battles sleep deprivation'
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