It’s all too easy to avoid dealing with sleep problems. With busy, hectic lives, it’s a common tendency to push sleep woes aside. The truth is, not getting enough sleep has serious consequences to health, happiness and safety. Alertness, memory, job performance and mood all depend on adequate sleep.
A common condition
So how big a problem is sleep deprivation in the United States? According to research by the Centers for Disease Control, 30 percent of working adults in the U.S. sleep no more than six hours nightly. That’s significantly less than the seven or more hours a night that are recommended by most sleep experts.
Never catching up
No one is saying you should worry about the occasional poor night’s sleep. But when sleep deprivation is chronic, the effects can be devastating. Chronic sleep loss increases risks for a range of serious illnesses, including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and depression. A regular pattern of insufficient sleep can also seriously impair thinking, memory, judgment, and reaction time, with dangerous and even deadly consequences. Too many public health disasters and accidents—from the nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl to the Exxon Valdez oil spill, from the Space Shuttle Challenger shuttle explosion to the Metro-North train derailment—have been linked to fatigue and sleep-related human error. Sleep deprivation presents more than individual risks to health and well being—it also poses serious risks to public safety.
Facts on short sleep
If you believe you’re one of the rare individuals who can get by without much sleep, first, think again, then consider the following:
- Sleep deprivation and sleep disorders cost Americans hundreds of billions of dollars every year in lost productivity, medical expenses, sick leave, and property and environmental damage, according to a report by the U.S. Institute of Medicine.
- 100,000 car crashes are caused by drowsy drivers each year, according to conservative estimates by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
- The effect of lost sleep is similar to being drunk. Even moderate sleep deprivation can lead to cognitive and motor-skill impairments similar to—or even worse than—being legally drunk.
Good sleep a necessity
For some, less sleep can be seen as a lifestyle “choice.” The truth is that sleep is anything but. Sleep is necessary and essential to good long-term health, safety, and well being.
With jobs, families and all the demands on our time, we often opt to sacrifice our sleep in order to get everything done. For many others, a sleep disorder is to blame for their insufficient sleep. For both groups, sleep should be a priority. Otherwise our health, as well as our relationships, careers and safety can suffer.