Linking Science and Social Issues

How The Science of Sleep Links Interdisciplinary Science and Social Issues


The second most traded commodity in the world today is coffee (oil is largest) and other caffeine products (Thompson, 2006). Caffeine used as a psychoactive drug has become a staple in today's society, and a good night's sleep has become less important today than ever in history. Between 1970 and 1997, the amount of soft drinks (30-40 mg of Caffeine per 12 oz) produced in the United States has increased from 2.1 to 11.6 gallons per person per year, and the emergence of new ultra caffeine products such as Red Bull (80 mg of caffeine per 8 oz), and other "energy drinks" (caffeine dose <150 mg) are now becoming standard diet for youth in America (Smith, 2007). According to the National Sleep Foundation's 1999 Omnibus Sleep Poll, the average amount of sleep in the United States has diminished to 6.58 hrs per night (an average of 7.8 hours is required to eliminate sleep debt), and 62% of adults experienced a sleep problem a few nights a week or more. Even more alarming is that in this information age, as we acquire more and more sleep debt, this trend seems to be increasing, and more likely to be involved in work place accident and drowsy driving accidents (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 1994). In fact, 62% of adults reported driving while feeling drowsy and 27% of adults have dozed off at the wheel (NSF, 1999).


Among high school and college students between the ages of 12 and 25, the lost of sleep has become an epidemic. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) have identified adolescents and young adults (ages 12 to 25 years) as a population at high risk for problem sleepiness based on "evidence that the prevalence of problem sleepiness is high and increasing with particularly serious consequences." (NIH, 1997). Further, the NIH estimates that 85% of teens in the United States do not get the suggested amount of 8.5 hours of sleep a night.


A sleep survey conducted on approximately 280 students at Kapiolani Community College in Hawaii found a similar result. The following graphs demonstrate how sleep patterns change from the weekday to the weekends. The shift in sleep duration from the weekday nights to weekend night is a clear indication that students are maintaining a significant amount of sleep debt and are feeling an increasing pressure to sleep throughout the work week. The following diagram shows how this sleep debt is central to multiple topics related to human development and sleep science.