Americans Hurting
Themselves With Lack of Sleep

By Maggie Fox
WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - Americans are "woefully ignorant" about how much sleep they need and are walking -- and driving -- around sleepy as a consequence, experts said on Wednesday.
Most Americans -- 64 percent -- sleep less than the recommended eight hours, and 32 percent sleep six hours or less, the National Sleep Foundation, which sponsored a nationwide survey on sleeping habits and knowledge, said.
"Most Americans get too little sleep even though 98 percent of them agree that sleep is as important to their health as nutrition and exercise, and 83 percent agree that one can be successful and still get enough sleep," it said.
Yet more than a third surveyed said they were sleepy during the day and 30 percent said it interfered with their jobs.
"The brain does not rest during sleep -- there are parts of the brain that are more active during sleep," Thomas Roth, who heads sleep research at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit and advises the Foundation, told a news conference.
"Sleep and rest are not interchangeable."
The group's main concern was that people were driving whilesleepy. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) estimates that 100,000 crashes, causing 1,500 deaths and 71,000 injuries, are caused by drowsy drivers every year.
"A lot of people in the United States drive sleepy and a lot of sleepy drivers cause accidents," Roth said.
Most Americans do not realize they cannot force themselves awake if they are really sleepy, the survey found. "Raising the volume of the radio will not keep you awake. Opening the window will not keep you awake," Roth said.
Why are Americans so tired? "Fifty-one percent of men and 42 percent of women would go to sleep earlier if they didn't have a television or access to the Internet," the Foundation statement said.
"There are so many channels -- it's hard to get to sleep on time," Roth joked.
People also attached a moral value to sleeping less. "We do tend to idolize people who have short sleep and I think that's an unfortunate situation," Roth said.
"I think it's a prejudice in society -- people will say (British wartime leader Winston) Churchill slept five hours a night ... no one says Albert Einstein slept 10 hours a night, and he did." Churchill also took frequent naps, Roth noted.
Shift workers were especially sleepy, the survey found. "It's a consequence of how we run our society," Roth said.
Many people suffered sleep problems that they ignored or tried to live with, the survey found.
"Snoring can disrupt sleep even without waking the snorer and can be a sign of sleep apnea. However, only 50 percent of adults realize the potential harm to sleep quality, health and safety that snoring may signify," the Foundation said.
More than 40 percent of adults, and 50 percent of men, said they snored a few nights a week or more. Three percent have been diagnosed with sleep apnea, in which the airway is blocked during sleep, waking the sufferer several times in a night.
"For every person with a snoring problem you have someone else who is sleep-deprived," pointed out Dr. William Dement, one of the first sleep researchers in the United States and a member of the Foundation's board.
The telephone survey of more than 1,000 adults, accurate to within three percentage points, found most of the sleepy people were in their late teens and 20s. "The image of an older individual dozing on the porch is not a correct image," Dement said.
"Eighteen to 25-year-olds think they can get by with four to five hours of sleep because (former British prime minister) Margaret Thatcher can and they are twice the man she is," Roth said.
Dement said most primary care doctors did not ask people about sleep habits and failed to diagnose sleep problems.

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