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Sleep: A Necessity, Not a Luxury
Date:6/8/2008

An estimated 40 million Americans don't get a good night's rest

SUNDAY, June 8 (HealthDay News) -- The pace of life gets faster and faster, and people try to cram more and more into every minute of the day.

As things get more hectic, sleep tends to get short shrift. It's seen as wasted time, lost forever.

"For healthy people, there's a big temptation to voluntarily restrict sleep, to stay up an hour or two or get up an hour or two earlier," said Dr. Greg Belenky, director of the Sleep and Performance Research Center at Washington State University Spokane.

"But you're really reducing your productivity and exposing yourself to risk," Belenky added.

That's a message doctors are trying to spread to Americans, including the estimated 40 million people who struggle with some type of sleep disorder each year.

Before Thomas Edison invented the light bulb in 1880, people slept an average of 10 hours a night. These days, Americans average 6.9 hours of sleep on weeknights and 7.5 hours a night on weekends, according to the National Sleep Foundation.

"The group of people getting optimal sleep is getting smaller and smaller," said Dr. Chris Drake, senior scientist at the Henry Ford Hospital Sleep Disorders and Research Center in Detroit. "When a person's sleep drops to six hours or less, that's when a lot of things become very problematic."

While experts recommend seven to eight hours of sleep each night, the amount needed for an individual can vary.

But lack of sleep affects a person in one of two ways, Belenky said. First, sleeplessness influences the day-to-day performance of tasks.

"The performance effects are seen immediately," he said. "You short-change yourself of sleep, and you see the effects immediately. You can make a bad decision. You can miss something. Have a moment's inattention, and you're off the road."

The longer-term effects of sleep depriv
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