December 6, 2021

Awakening Greater Attention to the Health Policy Importance of Sleep

Heather Schofield, PhD is an Assistant Professor in both MEHP and Wharton and an LDI Senior Fellow. Her two primary ongoing areas of research include the role of health human capital (nutrition, pain management, adequate sleep) in economic productivity, cognitive function, and decision-making and the role of financial and social incentives in promoting healthy behaviors. Recently, she spoke with Hoag Levins, Editor of Digital Communications for Penn LDI, to discuss her recent sleep research featured in Science.

From Penn LDI

Co-authoring one of the two lead articles in the influential Science Policy Forum that opened a 37-page special sleep report, Schofield and her research team reviewed the findings and policy implications of their randomized control trial and survey in Chennai, India. The article was titled “Informing Sleep Policy Through Field Experiences: Evidence is Particularly Needed from Poorer Communities.”

“This all started some years ago when I was working on another research project in Chennai,” said Schofield. “I was walking from my hotel to the research office one morning and I passed this family sleeping on the pavement on the side of a six-lane highway with trucks rumbling by in one direction and cows wandering through in the other. There were honking horns and it was really hot and mosquitoes were everywhere. I wondered, ‘How can they sleep in this?’ That got me thinking about the difference in sleep environments and how that variation might play out in terms of economic implications.”

“Not many people think about the economics of sleep,” Schofield continued. “That surprises me because economics is about making cost and benefit tradeoffs, which is what happens in personal and policy decisions about how much — or what kind of — sleep we get.”

Insufficient sleep is widely recognized in world health circles to be endemic in minority and low-socioeconomic populations around the world. It plays a significant role in the higher rates of poor health common throughout those same populations.

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