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Election 2008: Sleep deprivation a tough opponent for presidential candidates

WESTCHESTER, Ill. - The field of presidential contenders dwindled Wednesday when former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) dropped out of the race. As Super Tuesday approaches, however, the Democratic and Republican frontrunners will continue to face a formidable challenge from sleep deprivation.

The demands of this competitive primary season will intensify this weekend as the candidates visit many of the 24 states that will hold a primary or caucus this Tuesday, Feb. 5. With these states spread across every region of the country, from California to New York, the candidates will be pushed to the limit as they criss-cross the nation campaigning.

Keeping a nonstop schedule of personal appearances, interviews and strategy sessions, both the candidates and their campaign staff will struggle to find adequate time for sleep. As a result, sleep deprivation is likely to make its mark on the campaign by causing performance impairments that could prove costly.

Sleep deprivation can have a severe impact on a candidate's mood and performance, increasing the likelihood of a memory lapse, a risky decision, a critical mistake, an improper comment or an angry outburst.

The most obvious effect of sleep deprivation is daytime sleepiness, which will become more intense if a candidate is forced to sit still for a presentation or ceremony. Visibly losing the battle to stay awake could tarnish a candidate's image and provide fodder for disparaging remarks by his or her opponents.

This risk was emphasized on Sunday, Jan. 21, when former President Clinton was seated prominently in front of the congregation at Harlem's Convent Avenue Baptist Church during a tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. A video clip showing Clinton nodding off during the service was broadcast on television news programs and circulated on the Internet.

Although caffeine, other types of stimulants, or brief naps may provide a short-term benefit, the only sure way for a candidate to overcome sleep deprivation is to increase nightly sleep time to satisfy his or her biological sleep need; there is no substitute for sufficient sleep.


  • About one in five adults fail to get enough sleep.
  • On average most adults need about seven to eight hours of sleep each night to feel alert and well rested.
  • A study published in the journal Sleep in 2003 shows that sleeping for six hours or less per night can hinder your cognitive performance in the same way as two nights of total sleep deprivation.
  • A study published in the journal Sleep in 2007 used a gambling task to show that risky decisions can be more attractive to a sleep-deprived brain.
  • An estimated 50 million to 70 million people in the U.S. suffer from a chronic sleep disorder.
  • In the U.S. there are more than 1,400 sleep disorders centers and labs that are accredited by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.


Contact: Jim Arcuri
American Academy of Sleep Medicine

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