Better Sleep Helps Not Just Our Bodies and Minds But Our Planet Too

Catching enough Z’s can lead to improved health, productivity and sustainable choices that conserve Earth’s resources.

Marie-Pierre St-Onge and Brooke Aggarwal
March 11, 2020

We all want to improve our lives and protect the planet. But many of us struggle to find time to act.  

There is a way, however, that we can help the environment and better our lives that doesn’t take away from our jobs, our family and friends, or even our leisure pursuits: Getting a good night’s sleep.

World Sleep Day, which takes place March 13, is an annual event occurring on the Friday before the Vernal Equinox. Organized by the World Sleep Society, the event was started by health care providers and members of the medical community in the field of sleep medicine and research to educate people on the benefits of sleep as well as to offer a call to action.

This year World Sleep Day is celebrating sleep with the slogan “Better Sleep, Better Life, Better Planet.” Why?  Because by recognizing sleep as an essential component of health, one can live a better, longer disease-free life. And, by being in the best health one can be, both mentally and physically, humans can help the planet by making better decisions and using fewer resources.

Large planet in black and blue design reflected by light at top. World Sleep Day written in large aqua letters at center

As sleep researchers, we know that sleep plays a critical role in immune function, metabolism, memory, learning and other vital functions. Mounting evidence suggests that a good night’s sleep of at least seven hours a night boosts productivity and motivation, which can lead to sustainable choices and ethical judgements.

Conversely, insufficient or poor sleep puts us at risk of premature aging, traffic accidents and medical problems, ranging from depression to diabetes and heart disease. Our research shows that sleep is strongly linked to increased cardiovascular risk. About 647,000 Americans die from cardiovascular disease each year—that’s one in every four deaths.  Considering that heart disease and stroke cost the United States nearly $1 billion per day in medical care cost and lost productivity, the impact of better sleep on longevity and the conservation of resources  could be significant.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has declared sleep deprivation a "public health epidemic." A survey conducted by the CDC and state health departments found a third of Americans are sleeping less than six hours a night and a quarter report trouble concentrating during the day.

These findings have huge implications for public health and affects our ability to be stewards of our environment.

Getting enough quality sleep helps protect your mental health, physical health, quality of life and safety. And that increased sleep has an added bonus: It saves on consumption of precious resources—fuel, electricity, food and oxygen, which is attenuated during sleep.

Indeed, the whole world benefits, including our planet, when humans are well-rested.

Marie-Pierre St-Onge is an associate professor of nutritional medicine at Columbia University Irving Medical Center and director of its Sleep Center of Excellence. Brooke Aggarwal is an assistant professor of medical sciences at Columbia University Irving Medical Center.

This column is editorially independent of Columbia News.