June 14, 2005
The U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that in 2003 the average U.S. male slept 8.48 hours in a 24-hour period. The average U.S. female slept 8.65 hours. While both averages surpass the recommended eight hours for adults, recent studies indicate that the vast majority of people are sleeping far less than these averages and not getting enough sleep to maintain optimal health and peak productivity.
The National Sleep Foundation's 2005 Sleep in America Pollshowed that, overall, U.S. adults are sleeping an average 6.9 hours a night, including both weekday and weekend sleep. Forty percent reported sleeping less than seven hours on weekdays, and 71 percent are sleeping less than eight hours on weekdays. The number of hours spent sleeping on both weekdays and weekends is trending downward.
A WebMD.com articlelisted the following short-term consequences associated with sleep deprivation:
In the long term, untreated sleep disorders are associated with many serious illnesses, including:
The American Sleep Disorders Association (ASDA) recognizes more than 85 sleep disorders that affect more than 70 million U.S. residents. Up to one-third of U.S. inhabitants have symptoms of insomnia; however, less than 10 percent of those are identified by primary care physicians. Sleep-related breathing disorders represent abnormalities that range from simple snoring to sleep apnea (repeated episodes of cessation of breathing during sleep).As highly prevalent as they are, most cases remain undiagnosed and untreated.
Clearly, sleep deprivation causes serious problems in both personal life and the workplace. It often is cited as a primary or secondary cause of industrial and motor vehicle accidents. It also has been cited as a reason for unscheduled absenteeism, which is at a five-year high.
Sleep deprivation negatively affects work performance—productivity and quality—and working relationships. Without adequate sleep, employees have more difficulty concentrating, learning, and communicating. Memory lapses increase. Problem-solving abilities decline. Sleep-deprived employees can be moody and less tolerant of co-workers' differing opinions, making them more prone to reactionary outbursts and other relationship-destroying behaviors. Work relationship problems impact the entire organization. They contribute to inefficiency and job dissatisfaction.
Work and relationship problems increase stress levels, which in turn exacerbate sleep problems. Combine sleep problems, added stress, and the anxiety sleep deprivation sufferers feel as they approach bedtime—will I have trouble falling asleep; will I sleep through the night; will I get enough sleep—and the situation can appear hopeless. It's not. Once diagnosed, most sleep disorders can be corrected.
Although many sleep-deprived people are very much aware that they have sleep problems, some aren't. Some believe they can get by and function at a high level on very little sleep, which is the exception rather than the rule. Answering the following questions compiled from various sleeping quizzes can help you determine if you're getting enough sleep or if you may have a sleep disorder:
Answering yes to two or more questions can indicate a possible sleep disorder.
The National Sleep Foundation (NSF)recommends that you document your sleep in its Interactive Sleep Diary. Completing this diary each day for one or two weeks will help you identify patterns or conditions that might be preventing you from getting enough sleep. The diary also can help you articulate just what is happening with your sleep should you decide to consult a physician or sleep disorder specialist.
The organization also offers the following tips to help you improve your sleep:
Leaving stress at the office also can help improve sleep. One way to do this is to write down the next day's to-do list at the end of each workday and then put the items out of your mind until you return to work. Easier said than done, but succeeding can help alleviate stress.
If following these guidelines doesn't help, it's wise to consult a physician or sleep disorder specialist. You may have a disorder that can be treated. Sleep apnea victims may be given devices that help keep their air passages open during sleep. In some cases, an operation may be in order.
If medication is prescribed, use it only as directed. Some sleep medications can be addicting, and it's possible to build up tolerances, rendering them ineffective after prolonged use. Make sure to ask the physician about side effects and if going off the medication might result in withdrawal symptoms. The goal is to achieve optimum sleep without medication—not to rely on sleep medication long-term.