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Americans Sleepier Than Ever

But new poll shows two-thirds just accept it and do best to cope

MONDAY, March 3 (HealthDay News) -- Americans are working later and sleeping less, a dangerous combination which can cause drowsiness at the wheel, loss of productivity and a lack of interest in sex.

And while most people know this is a problem, about two-thirds of them aren't doing anything about it, a new poll shows.

"People are actually acknowledging it's an issue and not doing any thing about it," said Mark R. Rosekind, a former board member of the National Sleep Foundation (NSF). "This can be lethal in your car."

The troubling numbers come from a new Sleep in America poll released Monday by the NSF as part of its 11th annual National Sleep Awareness Week.

This year's survey focuses much more on the workplace and issues of safety and productivity than previous surveys, said Rosekind, who was on the poll task force.

"Economic loss from sleep deprivation or sleep disorders generally is huge," said Dr. Samir Fahmy, director of the sleep lab at Kings County Hospital in New York City. "It's not just loss of money for medical care, it's loss of money for days off the job, accidents, lawyers for accidents, doctors, hospital stays, decreased productivity. It's like a chain reaction."

And that doesn't even begin to take into account medical and quality-of-life-related issues.

"People [on not enough sleep] will just not function cognitively as well as they should. They're not going to be as attentive, they're going to make more mistakes, be more irritable," said Dr. Nicholas Rummo, director of the Center for Sleep Medicine at Northern Westchester Hospital in Mt. Kisco, N.Y. "More seriously, there is certainly some degree of auto accidents that are the result of falling asleep and sleep deprivation, and there may be some other health implications in terms of heart health and more. There are some studies that tend to show that immune systems don't work as well."

More than 70 million Americans are affected by sleep problems, according to the National Institutes of Health. The problems are worse in women, and they worsen for both genders with age.

This random telephone survey of 1,000 individuals across the country, conducted at the end of 2007, found:

  • Respondents spend an average of almost 4.5 hours each week doing additional work from home. That's after an average 9.5-hour workday.
  • One quarter of respondents have an eight-to-nine-hour workday; one quarter work nine to 10 hours per day; a third work 10 or more hours daily.
  • 28 percent said that daytime sleepiness interferes with their daily activities at least a few days each month.
  • 29 percent reported falling asleep or being sleepy at work in the past month.
  • Respondents got an average of six hours and 40 minutes sleep per night on weekdays, although they said they needed seven hours and 18 minutes to be refreshed.
  • 36 percent have nodded off or fallen asleep while driving; 32 percent were drowsy while driving at least one or two times a month; and 26 percent drive drowsy during the workday.
  • 20 percent have lost interest in sex or have sex less often because of sleepiness.
  • 12 percent reported being late to work in the past month because of sleepiness.
  • 32 percent only get a good night's sleep a few nights per month.
  • 65 percent have a sleep problem, such as difficulty falling asleep or waking up during the night; 44 percent said they had such troubles almost every night.
  • 17 percent get help falling asleep, in the form of alcohol or prescription/over-the-counter sleep medications, at least a few nights each week.
  • 58 percent drank caffeine to cope.
  • 38 percent chose foods loaded in sugar and carbohydrates.
  • 37 percent say they take naps.
  • 34 percent work at places which allow napping during breaks.

"We work hard, [and] have family responsibilities, so we cheat on the sleep and do it because the consequences are not immediately apparent," Rummo said. "People are aware of the problem, but we don't attend to these preventive things. If there's not a semi-crisis in terms of health, we can neglect it."

More information

Visit the National Sleep Foundation for more on the poll, and for tips on sleeping well.

SOURCES: Samir Fahmy, M.D., assistant professor, medicine, pulmonary critical care and sleep medicine, State University of New York Downstate, and director, sleep lab, Kings County Hospital, New York City; Nicholas Rummo, M.D., director, center for sleep medicine, Northern Westchester Hospital, Mt. Kisco, N.Y.; Mark R. Rosekind, Ph.D., president and chief scientist, Alertness Solutions, Cupertino, Calif.; March 3, 2008, Sleep in America poll

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