Society has become "supremely arrogant" in ignoring the importance of sleep, leading researchers have told the BBC's Day of the Body Clock.
Scientists from Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Manchester and Surrey universities warn cutting sleep is leading to "serious health problems".
They say people and governments need to take the problem seriously.
Cancer, heart disease, type-2 diabetes, infections and obesity have all been linked to reduced sleep.
The body clock drives huge changes in the human body.
It alters alertness, mood, physical strength and even the risk of a heart attack in a daily rhythm.
It stems from our evolutionary past when we were active in the day and resting at night.
But scientists have warned that modern life and 24-hour society mean many people are now "living against" their body clocks with damaging consequences for health and wellbeing.
Prof Russell Foster, at the University of Oxford, said people were getting between one and two hours less sleep a night than 60 years ago.
He said: "We are the supremely arrogant species; we feel we can abandon four billion years of evolution and ignore the fact that we have evolved under a light-dark cycle.
"What we do as a species, perhaps uniquely, is override the clock. And long-term acting against the clock can lead to serious health problems."
He says this is an issue affecting the whole of society, not just shift workers.
Prof Foster said that this was an acute problem in teenagers and he had met children who sleep by popping their parent's sleeping tablets in the evening and then downing three Red Bulls in the morning.