THE BLOG

A Sleep Revolution Will Allow Us to Better Solve the World's Problems

12/16/2015 11:26 am ET | Updated Dec 16, 2015
Hero Images via Getty Images

So here's the big idea I think will shape 2016: sleep. That's right, sleep! How much and how well we sleep in the coming year -- and the years to follow -- will determine, in no small measure, our ability to address and solve the problems we're facing as individuals and as a society.

While our need for sleep has been a constant throughout human history, our relationship to sleep has changed throughout the centuries. And right now we're in the middle of a sleep deprivation crisis, with devastating effects on our health, our job performance, our relationships, and our happiness.

In 1942, only 11 percent of us were getting by on less than six hours of sleep per night. Today, 40 percent of us get less than six hours. Which is probably one of the reasons for the roughly 60 million prescriptions written every year for sleeping pills. And the toll is high -- with sleep deprivation costing the U.S. economy an estimated $63 billion each year. The costs don't stop there. In the U.S., drowsy drivers are involved in 328,000 accidents each year, 6,400 of which are fatal.

What we need is nothing short of a sleep revolution. And the good news is, there is evidence all around us that this revolution is actually in its early stages, with the potential to reach new heights in 2016.

In every industry and sector of society -- in business, in schools, in medicine, in sports, in the arts -- more and more people are recognizing the importance of sleep.

Even in finance, the boiler-room of burnout, change is coming. For example, Goldman Sachs has banned interns from staying in the office overnight. And it's coming from the top: business leaders including Campbell's Soup CEO Denise Morrison, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, Google Chairman Eric Schmidt, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, and Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini have all spoken out about how they prioritize sleep.

Those at the leading edge of the sports world have discovered that sleep is the ultimate performance-enhancing drug, with only positive side effects. Roger Federer says that if he doesn't get enough sleep, he's just not right on the court. Even the world's fastest man, Usain Bolt, knows the value of slowing down. "Sleep is extremely important to me," he says. "I need to rest and recover in order for the training I do to be absorbed by my body." And more and more professional teams, in every major sport, are employing sleep experts.

Technology, of course, is a big part of both sides of this story.

From our incessant work demands to being physically tethered to our blue-light emitting, melatonin-suppressing devices, we're all familiar with how technology can make it harder to sleep. But the answer to the challenges of technology isn't no technology, it's better technology. So we're seeing the emergence of technology that serves us instead the other way around: wearable technology, smart devices, "the Internet of things" -- technology that, instead of telling us about our world, tells us about ourselves.

Sleep allows us to connect with a deeper part of ourselves. Because when we're asleep, all the things that define our identity when we're awake -- our jobs, our relationships, our hopes, our emotions -- are quieted. And this makes possible one of the least-discussed benefits of sleep -- a small miracle really -- and that's the way it allows us, once we return from our night's journey, to see the world anew with fresh eyes and a reinvigorated spirit -- to step out of time and come back to our lives restored.

After my own collapse from sleep deprivation, I became an all-out sleep evangelist. And sleep became a key part of HuffPost's DNA. We launched our dedicated sleep section in 2007 and recently partnered with Sleep Number on a sponsored section, Sleep + Wellness, furthering the conversation on sleep as a public health issue and all the ways it can enhance our lives.

I'm confident 2016 will be the year when we collectively renew our relationship with sleep -- in all its mystery and all its fullness.

This post originally appeared on LinkedIn, as part of their Big Ideas 2016 series.

CONVERSATIONS