Consequences include daytime sleepiness, drowsy driving, accidents, impaired health, reduced productivity, and difficulty performing family responsibilities
A new national survey released today finds that Americans' knowledge about sleep is strikingly lacking, with only 14 percent passing a Sleep IQ test. Many Americans hold on to dangerous myths, falsely believing that people need less sleep as they age, that raising the volume on the radio helps people stay awake while driving, and that the human body can adjust to night shift work.
AMERICANS SLEEP POORLY
Furthermore, the consequences of Americans¹ poor sleep, documented extensively in the survey, are severe, with two-thirds of American adults reporting a sleep-related problem, and 23 percent acknowledging that they had actually fallen asleep while driving during the past year.
The survey, sponsored by the National Sleep Foundation to launch National Sleep Awareness Week, March 30 - April 5, assessed Americans' knowledge and attitudes concerning sleep, their sleep habits, the consequences and correlates of those habits, and the prevalence of sleep symptoms and disorders. The nationally representative survey was conducted in late 1997 and early 1998 through telephone interviews with 1,027 Americans.
RESULTS CONCERN SLEEP DOCTORS
"The survey findings are a source of great concern," warned Thomas Roth, Ph.D., Health and Scientific Advisor of the National Sleep Foundation and director of the Sleep Disorders Research Center at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. "People have no idea how important sleep is to their lives. Most of us need eight hours of sound sleep to function at our best, and good health demands good sleep. Conversely, lack of sleep and sleep problems have serious, often life-threatening consequences. This is a case where what we don't know can harm us -- and harm those around us."
AMERICANS IGNORANT ABOUT SLEEP
Based on a host of indicators, Americans are woefully ignorant about sleep. Among the myths:
ADULTS SKIMP ON SLEEP
Not surprisingly, many adults get less sleep than they need. Nearly one in three Americans sleeps as little as six hours or less per night during the work week. And the average amount of sleep (for men and women, suburban, urban and rural inhabitants) is approximately seven hours per night. This is despite the fact that 98 percent of adults agree that sleep is as important to their health as nutrition and exercise, and 83 percent agree that one can be successful and still get enough sleep.
INSOMNIA, SNORING, RESTLESS LEGS CITED AS SLEEP COMPLAINTS
The survey reveals in detail the symptoms experienced by the two-thirds of Americans reporting sleeping problems. Forty-three percent suffer from insomnia, and a comparable number report that they snore. For both groups, the incidence is at least a few nights per week. Fifteen percent report symptoms consistent with restless legs syndrome (creepy, crawly or tingly feelings in the legs).
DAYTIME SLEEPINESS IS A COMMON PROBLEM
The consequences of poor and limited sleep are enormous for individual health and productivity, as well as for the public health generally. Thirty-seven percent report being so sleepy during the day that it interferes with daily activities, and the percentage increases to 52 percent for shift workers. for those who report daytime sleepiness, self-reported job performance dropped by 30 percent while performance of family duties fell by 50 percent.
DRIVING WHILE DROWSY STATISTICS ALARMING
Perhaps the most serious consequences for the public health is the danger posed by drowsy driving. Although sleep loss kills more young people in traffic accidents than does alcohol, only 30 percent of adults realize this. worse, more than half of the adult public (57 percent) have driven when drowsy during the past year, with 80 percent of people working rotating shifts or regular evenings admitting that they have driven while drowsy.
Tragically, drowsy driving is a cause of death for at least 1,500 Americans each year. Twenty-three percent of adults report having fallen asleep at the wheel in the past year. And a comparable percentage (22 percent) would rather continue driving when very sleepy than take a break at a rest stop because they fear for their safety there.
ADEQUATE SLEEP IMPORTANT BUT NOT RECOGNIZED
"Failure to recognize the importance of good, adequate sleep is all too common," said Lorraine Wearley, Ph.D., President of the National Sleep Foundation. "Sadly, so too is a lack of recognition of the warning signs of falling asleep at the wheel and the symptoms of a number of diagnosable and treatable sleep disorders -- such as sleep apnea, narcolepsy ( a condition characterized by constant daytime sleepiness) and restless legs syndrome."
DEMENT DECLARES THE NEED FOR NEW PUBLIC POLICIES CONCERNING SLEEP
"If individuals suffer repeated or serious sleep problems, physicians and sleep specialists can help. Treatment may be behavioral, such as taking scheduled naps or losing weight, pharmacological, surgical, or a combination," added Dr. Roth. "In my view," concluded William C. Dement, M.D., Ph.D., Chair of the National Sleep Foundation Government Affairs Committee, "we need Americans to wake up to the crucial importance of sleep in their lives. At the same time, the nation needs a new set of public policies demanding that sleep be taught in every component of our educational system."
U.S. Representative John Dingell (D-MI) echoed the call: "Sleep deprivation and fatigue have been identified as factors in a growing number of transportation and workplace accidents, while awareness of sleep issues remains minimal. No one knows this better than my constituents who witnessed a series of fall-asleep crashes last summer, injuring players of the Detroit Red Wings and students on a civil rights bus tour. That is why I and other legislators have introduced a resolution calling for increased educational initiatives like National Sleep Awareness Week."
Dr. Dement also called for increased funding for sleep research and research-based policies regulating hours of service for truck drivers, physicians, and others entrusted with the public's health and safety." Dr. Dement is also Director, Sleep Disorders Clinic and Laboratory, at the Stanford University School of Medicine.
The National Sleep Foundation (NSF), which commissioned the 1998 survey, is a nonprofit organization devoted to promoting public understanding of sleep and sleep disorders and to supporting sleep-related education, research and advocacy to improve public health and safety. For more information, visit the NSF Web site at www.sleepfoundation.org, or call 202-347-3471.
National Sleep Foundation
729 Fifteenth Street, NW
Washington, DC 20005
Contact: Heidi Wunder or Joan Rachel Goldberg
National Sleep Foundation
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