Sleep: The Fourth Pillar of Health

There is no doubt as to the importance of good habits for health. There are three pillars classically seen as having an impact: a balanced diet, moderate physical activity and emotional wellbeing. There is, however, another factor that is often downplayed or excluded: sleep.

A lack of quality sleep has consequences that go much further than just being tired the next day. If it persists over time, it is associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity and, even, cancer. It affects memory and attention span, and is responsible for a loss of productivity of roughly 2% of the Gross Domestic Product in some countries, like the United States. This is why several projects are starting to raise awareness of the importance of sleep, the need for timetable reform and, even, using new portable technology and big data to improve people’s habits.

In order to discuss all of these aspects, world-renowned physicians and scientists, as well as technology and social stakeholders, met for the debate ‘Sleep: the Fourth Pillar of Health’, organized by B·Debate (an initiative of Biocat and the “la Caixa” Foundation to promote scientific debate) in conjunction with the Global Sleep Observatory, Lleida Biomedical Research Institute (IRBLleida) and AdSalutem Institute.



Both too much and too little sleep are associated with many diseases and increased mortality rates. The clearest ties are seen with cardiovascular and mental conditions, but sleep is also being associated with some types of cancer. 

• Some groups are particularly sensitive to a lack of sleep, although for different reasons, including pregnant women, children and teenagers, and the elderly. 

• A lack of sleep affects the productivity of people and countries. Some studies put its impact at roughly 2% of the Gross Domestic Product and estimate that one additional hour of sleep boosts productivity 16%. 

Studies using big data can help better understand sleep and promote good habits by collecting data from the population and sending out personalized tips, for example.