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Sleepless in Seattle, And New York, And Dallas, And...

Many Americans say they aren't getting enough sleep, new survey says

TUESDAY, April 2, 2002 (HealthDayNews) -- A lot of Americans say they're not getting enough sleep. In fact, that number is about 25 percent of the adult population, and these folks say they don't get the minimum amount needed to feel rested and be productive.

That's one of the findings of the latest "Sleep in America" survey, which was released today as part of "Sleep Awareness Week." The campaign concludes Saturday with the return of Daylight Savings Time -- when clocks "spring forward" and people "lose" an hour of sleep.

"If we were talking about a virus or a disease, we'd use the term epidemic," says Dr. Gary Zammitt, a spokesman for the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), which conducts the annual survey.

"There really is an epidemic of sleepiness in America," adds Zammitt, director of the Sleep Disorders Institute at St. Luke's Roosevelt Hospital Center in New York City.

That lack of sleep, Zammitt says, has a big impact on the way we behave during the day, and the resulting fatigue affects every aspect of our lives. Sleepy people are more prone to accidents, are less productive and have difficulty with relationships, according to the poll.

Some studies have even suggested a link between medical conditions and a lack of sleep, according to Dr. Daniel Lee, medical director of the sleep center at Pitt County Memorial Hospital at East Carolina University's Brody School of Medicine.

An estimated 47 million Americans don't get the sleep they need, according to the NSF poll, which questioned more than 1,000 adults on their sleep habits and moods.

Almost 40 percent of the survey participants said their lack of sleep affected their daily activities at least a few days a month. Those between the ages of 18 and 29 seemed most affected by a lack of sleep, with 44 percent reporting sleep-related problems several times a month.

So, how much sleep are Americans getting?

Only 30 percent reported sleeping eight hours or more during the week. Twenty-nine percent said they got between seven and eight hours a night, while 24 percent caught six-to-seven hours of shuteye nightly. And 15 percent said they were getting by on less than six hours of sleep on weekdays. During the weekend, people tend to catch up on some of that lost sleep, the poll found.

What's really interesting, Lee says, is that people know they need more sleep but just aren't getting it.

"What surprises me is that even though more Americans are getting aware of how a lack of sleep can cause decreased function, the average American is sleeping less," he says.

And Americans do know that a lack of sleep causes problems. Ninety-three percent of those surveyed said fatigue could impair work performance. Ninety-one percent felt that being tired put them at risk for injuries, and 85 percent said being sleepy made it difficult to get along with others. The fatigued were also more likely to describe themselves as angry or dissatisfied with life than the well-rested.

The people polled also believe sleep is important enough to support limiting the hours worked by professionals like doctors, pilots and police officers. Eighty-six percent of those polled said they'd be nervous if they knew their surgeon had been working for 24 hours straight.

Even when Americans want to be sleeping, it seems they still have trouble. Almost 60 percent of the respondents said they have symptoms of insomnia at least one night a week. Slightly more than one-third said they snored frequently, and one-in-10 reported momentary pauses in breathing during sleep. Both can be symptoms of the sleep disorder sleep apnea, which causes daytime sleepiness.

Fear may be keeping Americans up, as well. Part of the poll looked at how people were sleeping in the days immediately after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

On a typical night, 27 percent said they get only a fair or poor night of sleep. In the days immediately following 9/11, that number jumped to 47 percent. And rates of insomnia symptoms increased from an average of 58 percent to 69 percent.

How much sleep is the right amount?

That's as unique as the amount of food you need, according to the NSF. Vary your bedtime until you've discovered the amount that seems to be the most restorative for you. Listen to your body and adjust your schedule accordingly.

What to Do

To get a better night's sleep, Lee recommends having a regular sleeping schedule, avoiding exposure to too much light before bedtime, not exercising for at least four hours before bed, and avoiding caffeine for at least eight hours ahead of time.

If you find you're constantly tired during the day or are falling asleep at inappropriate times, Lee suggests getting evaluated by a sleep expert. Almost half the people surveyed felt it was normal to be sleepy during the afternoon, but Lee says people need to understand that that's not normal and means you're not getting adequate rest.

If you're interested in reading more about how the Sept. 11th attacks have affected the way we sleep, visit this National Sleep Foundation Web site. The foundation also offers these tips on getting a good night's sleep.

SOURCES: Gary Zammitt, M.D., director, Sleep Disorders Institute, St. Luke's Roosevelt Hospital Center, New York City; Daniel Lee, M.D., director, sleep center, Pitt County Memorial Hospital, Brody School of Medicine, East Carolina University, Greenville, N.C.; "Sleep in America 2002 Survey," National Sleep Foundation, Washington, D.C.
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