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'The shorter you sleep, the shorter you live', warns leading expert

Sleepy parents looking after twins

There’s nothing better than a good night’s sleep, but the chances are, if you’re a parent, you certainly won’t be able to remember the last time you had one. Once your babies grow up though, trying to get your nights back to normal should be a priority – according to new research into the science of sleep.

Bawling babies and tantruming toddlers cause many sleepless nights and getting three or fours sleep becomes the norm for many parents. Whether you’re woken by a wailing newborn or an early bird toddler, the likelihood of you getting a full eight hours of sleep are slim.

But a leading expert has warned that a “catastrophic sleep-loss” epidemic is killing society and he fears nobody is taking the crisis seriously enough.

Professor Michael Walker, director of the Centre for Human Sleep Science at the University of California, said that sleep deprivation affected “every aspect of our biology” and it was widespread in modern society.

He said politicians and employers failed to take the problem seriously despite it being linked to cancer, diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, obesity and poor mental health.

He said: “Deprivation sinks down into every possible nook and cranny. And yet no one is doing anything about it. Things have to change: in the workplace and our communities, our homes and families.

“Sleep needs to be prioritised, even incentivised.

“Sleep loss costs the UK economy over £30bn a year in lost revenue.”

Electric lights, televisions, computer screens and longer commutes all contribute to sleep deprivation – and Mr Walker argues that after one night of only five hours sleep, your natural killer cells (the ones that attack cancer), drop by 70 per cent.

He said: “No one wants to give up time with their family or entertainment, so they give up sleep instead.

“And anxiety plays a part. We’re a lonelier, more depressed society. And alcohol and caffeine are more widely available. All these are the enemies of sleep.”

But he seemed to forget children, who are arguably the most culpable of all.

So once they're sleeping through, it looks like there's a better reason than ever to get an early night.