By Sophie Squire
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Tired? It’s not you, it’s the climate catastrophe

Millions of people already struggle with sleeplessness, but a new report says rising temperatures and climate change will make this worse
Issue 2808
bedside alarm clock showing 3.01am

Stress and anxiety means millions of people already struggle to sleep. Climate chaos and rising temperatures will only make this worse. Picture: Robot Brainz/Flickr

Climate change poses an existential threat to us all, but it’s not just worrying about the crisis keeping us up at night. A new report in the journal, One Earth, found that soaring temperatures stop us from getting the rest we need. It found that when the heat soars to 30 degrees, you can expect to lose, on average, fourteen minutes of sleep. 

And while research has shown that while very cold temperatures do affect sleep quality, hot temperatures have a much bigger impact. 

Millions of those who live in urban areas especially are suffering, as the report says, from acute sleep restriction. It points to depression, heart problems, suicidal behaviour, compromised immunity and an inability to work as possible outcomes of sleep deprivation. It also notes how people are put in danger by experiencing “delays to reaction times and increased accident risk.” 

The report also shows how tiredness affects brain function and memory skills and leads to neurodegenerative diseases.

The study is one of the first to track sleep and temperature in a real world setting by gathering data from sleep wristbands of people across the world. It drew on sleep observations from nearly 50,000 people in 68 different countries and was able to form a picture of a worrying trend. 

The report finds, “Increases in nighttime temperature reduce time slept across the global temperature distribution, with effects increasing in magnitude as temperatures become hotter.” And it concludes that “total annual sleep loss due to warming night time temperatures may steadily increase by mid-century, with yearly losses becoming markedly larger by 2099 under an increasing greenhouse gas.” 

The poorest, especially in the Global South, will lose sleeping hours because of increasing heat. Women and the elderly were also more likely to be sleep challenged than their younger and male counterparts. The report says, “The effect of minimum night time temperature on human sleep loss is substantially larger for people residing within lower and middle-income countries.” 

As the report says, many of those in poorer countries don’t have access to air conditioning that can make hot nights bearable. But it also makes clear that air conditioning that contributes to greenhouse emissions isn’t the answer. Instead, it argues there needs to be more “heat-resilient planning and environmental design”, especially in urban areas. 

The research doesn’t just detail a worrying trend. It clarifies that it should be a call to arms for states to make adaptations in preparation for hotter temperatures. Co-author Kelton Minor said, “In order to make informed climate policy decisions moving forward, we need to better account for the full spectrum of plausible future climate impacts extending from today’s societal greenhouse gas emissions choices,” he continued.”

Capitalism already piles on the pressure for people to work longer hours and to wake up earlier. When we go to bed, we are often disrupted by anxieties about the day before or ahead. 

The bosses’ system leads to workers being pushed to the brink and also in a rapidly heating world that is, in turn, causing sleepless nights. We must fight against their nightmare of a system all the hours that we are awake.

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