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POSTED 9 APR 2001 Are you getting it? Probably not. Even though it's free, fun and organic, sleep is way down on most people's list of priorities -- far below wage slavery and other forms of Productive Behavior.

the Happy Sleeper converts to happily sleeping man when mouse rolls over the the Happy Sleeper neon textThat's the word from a survey just released by the National Sleep Foundation. NSF is a non-profit organization funded by individuals and corporations, including drug companies and mattress makers, with an interest in sleep. They say most Americans are getting less sleep, less fun and less sex than they were five years ago.

The survey found that 63 percent of Americans don't get the recommended eight hours of sleep. Nearly one-third get less than seven hours. (However, eight hours is not sacrosanct. Although more people need eight hours than other amounts, many need less -- or more.)

Sleep? I'll do it on the job...
Slavin' trumped snoozin': The more people worked, the less sleep they got. "There is a direct relationship between hours worked and its negative impact on sleep," said NSF vice-president James Walsh in a press release. "This is particularly noticeable for people working more than 40 hours per week."

If the NSF figures can be believed, 40 percent of Americans are working more than 5 years ago, and 30 percent less. The average employed person worked 46 hours per week, and 38 percent worked more than 50 hours.

There are no good working hypotheses to explain why we cannot live without  sleep.Sixty-nine percent of the respondents have at least one symptom of sleep disorder. Fifty-one percent experienced a symptom of insomnia, such as difficulty getting to sleep or staying asleep, or waking without feeling refreshed, a few times a week over the past year.

But the study has flaws, cautions Terry Young, a sleep researcher and professor of preventive medicine at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She says the results may overestimate the prevalence of sleep disorders because people with sleep problems were more likely to answer the survey.

Yawn!
Nonetheless, she says "There is definitely a high prevalence of sleep disorders that are undiagnosed and untreated." Sleep is a necessity, not a luxury, she says, and lack of sleep is linked to cardiovascular disease and problems with learning, memory, motivation.

Young studies one of the worst sleep disorders, sleep apnea -- a temporary cessation of breathing caused by a blockage of the airway. Apnea can arouse its victims many times each night, interfering with the deepest sleep and causing extreme daytime drowsiness.

Because obesity tends to narrow the windpipe, apnea is most common and severe among the overweight, occurring almost entirely among snorers. But because many people don't fully awaken, apnea can be elusive.

A little dose'll do ya
 Guy in bed yawns. With mouse on image, he grabs the clicker with bleary eyes.How much apnea is harmful? In a recent study, Young and colleagues found people with a moderate level, 15 or more apneas per hour, were twice as likely to develop new hypertension in a four-year period.

Four percent of women and 9 percent of men have that much apnea, she adds.

Apnea can be treated by fitting a gadget over the mouth and nose to maintain pressure in the airway and prevent the temporary blockages. After treatment, Young reports, "people think back and say one the worst problems is that the motivation to do things is so low when they're tired -- as they so often are."

Apnea causes its victims to seem lazy and uncaring in relationships and at work, she adds. "Their overall quality of life suffers."

Work song: the real blues
The industry survey painted a bleak picture of a nation, bleary-eyed and sleep-starved, but it also found hopeful signs. Eighty-five percent of Americans would sleep more if they knew it would improve their health; 83 percent would if they knew it would help them work more safely, improve their memory (82 percent) or slow aging (78 percent) -- all known effects of sufficient snoozing.

Tidbits we couldn't ignore
Still awake? Here are some highlights of the Foundation's survey:

Hate snoring? Then move out of the South, where 45 percent of respondents reported snoring a few nights a week. Snoring was least common in the West (28 percent). Being overweight, married, hypertensive or diabetic were all associated with snoring, which can progress to sleep apnea.

Westerners sleep best: "only" 63 percent have problems, compared to 69 percent nationally.

At least one sleep problem (including insomnia, waking too early or apnea) was present in 76 percent of respondents living with children under 18, 77 percent of those with a low level of "marital satisfaction," 74 percent of workers who change shifts, and more than 75 percent of those with depression, nighttime heartburn, diabetes, cancer, hypertension, heart disease or arthritis.

The hour before sleep is dominated by television (87 percent), spending time with family or friends (73 percent), reading (53 percent), or taking a hot bath or shower (50 percent). Fewer than one-third of respondents had sex, listened to music, went on the Internet, ate a full meal, or did job-related work.

Parents beware: Having kids will not ensure a good night's sleep. Married people with children get less sleep (6.7 hours) than those without kids (7.2 hours). Twelve percent of adults said they typically slept with a child, and 81 percent of those adults reported a sleep problem.

What good is sleep?
sleeper tosses and turns, muttering 'Shouldn't have had that #!!@*#! coffee!!Although you can't live without sleep, "We actually do not understand exactly why we sleep," Young says. Various explanations that have been raised, such as allowing the body to rest or providing time for the brain to consolidate memories, have been shot down as reasons we must sleep, Young says. "We all know why we must breathe or eat, but we still do not know why we must sleep."

Indeed, there aren't any decent working hypotheses at this point. We Why Filers wish we could help, but (yawn!) we feel the need for a nap. I guess we'll have to sleep on it...

-- David Tenenbaum

 

     

 

     

Bibliography:
Nieto F.J., et al Association of Sleep-Disordered Breathing, Sleep Apnea, and Hypertension in a Large Community-Based Study, JAMA, 283(14):1829-36, Apr 12, 2000.

       
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