Is America Sleep Deprived?

America Needs More Sleep, Study Says

Copyright © 1998
Copyright © 1998 Scripps Howard
* The Web site of The National Sleep Foundation.

By MICHAEL DOUGAN, San Francisco Examiner.
Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service.

(March 27, 1998 01:13 a.m. EST ) —
Like hypnosis subjects in a campy old movie, Americans are getting sleepy
— very, very sleepy. Meanwhile, they blithely work and drive as if they
were well-refreshed. The consequences are predictable.

So say the savants at the National Sleep Foundation, which has
released a study revealing that 64 percent of people in the U.S. sleep
less than the recommended eight hours a night, while 32 percent log fewer
than six hours. And how do they feel when awake? Tired, according to the
report, based on a nationwide survey of sleeping habits.

More than a third said they were drowsy during the day. Nearly that
many said it interfered with their on-the-job performance (a figure that
rose to more than half for night-shift workers).

Of special concern, said experts at the foundation in Washington,
D.C., is that people drive when deprived of sleep. Some 100,000 crashes,
involving 1,500 deaths and 71,000 injuries, are caused by drivers who
drift off, according to an estimate by the National Transportation Safety
Board. This is not news to the pros who pilot big rigs on U.S. highways,
said Deborah Whistler, editor of Heavy Duty Trucking Magazine, published
in Irvine, Calif.

“(Sleep deprivation) is a huge issue in the trucking industry,” said
Whistler. Drivers are particularly prone to “microsleep, where they just
kind of go in and out of sleep (while driving).”

She said one transportation company is experimenting with a
computerized gadget that alerts drivers — as well as their home office
— whenever they start to sleep at the wheel. “I would hazard a guess
that within a couple of years every trucker in America is going to have
one of these things, if they work,” Whistler said.

Lack of sleep also can cause less obvious health hazards, said Clete
Kushida, director of the Stanford University Center for Human Sleep

“There’s evidence that if there’s sleep deprivation and a person has a
sleep-related breathing disorder, it can make the breathing disorder
worse,” said Kushida.

He said the breathing disorder, known as sleep apnea, afflicts 24
percent of men and 9 percent of women between ages 30 and 60.

Professional competence is also a victim of short sleep hours, Kushida
added. “Your work performance deteriorates significantly,” he said. “You
become irritable. You have short-term memory problems and concentration

Just one night of sleep deprivation can bring on these symptoms,
Kushida said. For those who routinely cheat themselves of vital slumber,
“the sleep debt accumulates over time … eventually the person just

The foundation survey — based on interviews with more than 1,000
people — blamed two tools of technological society — TV and the
Internet — on some of America’s collective sleep debt. “Fifty-one
percent of men and 42 percent of women would go to sleep earlier if they
didn’t have a TV or access to the Internet,” said the foundation

What’s more, getting enough sleep is not a status symbol in
competitive society, said foundation researchers.

Noting that the sleepiest Americans are in their late teens and 20s,
Thomas Roth, head of sleep research at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit and
a foundation adviser, said: “Eighteen- to 25-year-olds think they can get
by with four to five hours of sleep because Margaret Thatcher can and
they are twice the man she is.” How can we tell when we’ve have had
enough sleep? That’s easy, said Kushida. You’ve had enough sleep when
you’re no longer sleepy.

The survey was done to launch National Sleep Awareness Week, March
30-April 5, which includes National Sleep Day on April 2.

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