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Sleeping Beauty has been a part of our fairy tale canon for nearly a thousand years. The character has appeared in various formats beginning at least as early as the 14th century and has remained popular into the modern day, with animated treatments by Disney and a reimagining in the Shrek franchise.
Throughout the second and third films in the franchise, the role of Sleeping Beauty increases until, in Shrek the Third she plays an important part in the film’s climax, using her ability to fall asleep at any time to help Fiona storm the castle.
That ability to gain restful sleep at any time might become an increasingly valuable skill as temperatures continue to climb as a consequence of global climate change. According to a new study published in the journal One Earth, Kelton Minor from the Copenhagen Center for Social Data Science at the University of Copenhagen, and colleagues, found a relationship between rising temperatures and loss of sleep which is likely to get worse as we approach the end of this century.
“Every night, when we go to bed, our bodies shed heat from our core into the surrounding environment by dilating our blood vessels and increasing blood flow distally to our hands and feet. Our skin temperature heats up and this facilitates the transfer of heat into the environment. In order for our bodies to do this, the surrounding environment has to be cooler than we are,” Minor told SYFY WIRE.
In fact, studies have shown that our readiness to fall asleep reaches its maximum right around the middle of this nightly fall in body temperature, according to Minor. Rising environmental temperatures disrupt our bodies’ ability to dump heat into our surroundings, not only resulting in less restful sleep but delaying our ability to fall asleep in the first place.
Scientists looked at over 10 billion sleep observations across 68 different countries and found a consistent pattern which shows that the warmer it becomes, the less people sleep. This relationship holds steady across seasons, social demographics, and global climates. Without fail, as temperatures get warmer, sleep is eroded.
“We didn’t see any circumstances in which people gained sleep as it became warmer. Drawing on this global analysis and individual responses to changes in temperature, we estimated different future trajectories in the climate scenario,” Minor said.
Those future projections take into account an array of climate outcomes ranging from a rapid decline and stabilization of greenhouse gas emissions to continued emission and worsening global temperatures. Tracing all of those possible futures forward to the end of this century, scientists estimated that the average person will lose between 50 and 58 hours of sleep annually.
“Fifty hours is on the low end if we successfully magneto reduce emissions considerably, but if we continue to increase our greenhouse gas concentrations, we would expect 58 hours of sleep loss per person, per year,” Minor said.
Of course, taking those numbers as an average makes the problem seem smaller than it actually is. Those hours split up evenly across the year amount to just under 10 minutes of lost sleep per night, which might not seem like such a hard sleeping pill to swallow. It’s important to realize, however, that those minutes and hours won’t be distributed evenly over the year or across global population demographics. Because of the relationship with warmer temperatures, sleep loss follows a seasonal rhythm with the most severe nights happening during warmer summer months. You might sleep fine during the winter only to suffer during the summer.
Moreover, certain segments of the planet are set to carry the bulk of the environmental sleep burden while other segments sleep easy.
“We find that in high-income countries the impact per degree of warming is about a third of the magnitude of that in low- or middle-income countries. That suggest that ready access to air conditioning or other environmental amenities may be helping to reduce the burden of temperature on sleep in more affluent contexts. The opposite is also turn, unfortunately, that many low- or middle-income countries which are already disproportionately exposed to hotter temperatures are much more impacted,” Minor said.
The risk of decreased sleep isn’t only one of convenience or comfort. Studies have shown that a decrease in quality sleep is a risk factor for cardiovascular health and socioemotional outcomes. All of which is stacked atop an already present gap in sleep in up to a third of adults in the United States, according to the CDC.
Enjoy your naps while you’re able and wake up ready to take whatever action you can against the climate crisis, because if global emissions and temperatures follow their current trend, we’re going to wish for a wicked witch to curse us with the ability to sleep soundly.