Why Better Sleep Should Be a National Priority

It’s time to admit it America – we have a sleep problem.

We’ve been stumbling and micro-sleeping our way through the day for quite awhile, and it’s time to smell the proverbial coffee. Research and surveys indicate that a huge portion of the country – including children – are sleep deprived and many more face regular sleep problems.

Take a quick look at some of the latest numbers on sleep in America:

  • 35% to 40% of U.S. adults are affected by problems falling asleep or daytime tiredness in a given year.
  • 60% experience sleep problems a few nights per week or more, and most have not sought treatment according the National Sleep Foundation (NSF).
  • 50 to 70 million U.S. adults have a sleep or wakefulness disorder according to the Institute of Medicine.
  • Over 100,000 vehicle crashes per year are attributed to drowsiness.
  • U.S. students are more sleep deprived than those in 50 other countries. Poor sleep affected 73% of 9-10 year olds and 80% of 14-15 year olds in the study (versus international averages of 47% and 57%, respectively).
  • 43% of Americans between 13 and 64 say they rarely or never get a good night of sleep on weekdays, and 60% say they experience a sleep problem every, or almost every night according to the 2011 NSF poll.
  • 95% of those surveyed by NSF said they use electronics (TV, phone, computer) before bed at least a few nights per week.
  • 48% of Americans aren’t getting enough sleep, and half of this group isn’t taking any action to sleep better according to the Better Sleep Council’s 2013 survey.
  • In the BSC survey, 52% of adults age 35 to 54 reported sleep deprivation (compared to 44% of ages 18 to 34 and 42% of adults over 55).
  • Less than 30% of adults surveyed by the BSC agreed that sleep contributed to issues like heart disease, strokes, memory loss and diabetes despite scientific evidence.


    Sleep deprived people are less adept at problem solving and learning, may have more difficulty recalling information, are more likely to make errors, and are less motivated according to a

    wide variety of studies. Sleepy employees are also more likely to miss work, and can also affect coworkers and team performance as well.

    If you are the sleepy one, that means you are not at your best and it could be affecting your performance at work or your learning and grades at school. If you are a manager or business owner, setting schedules or creating a culture that inhibits healthy sleep could indeed impact your bottom line.

    For students, including, elementary, teens and university, there is considerable research that indicates sleepy students get worse grades and suffer performance setbacks on tests.

    It affects cognition and mood.

    Your brain without sleep is sluggish and impaired. Studies have found a lack of rest affects our ability to learn new facts, impairs memory and recall, impairs visuomotor skills, and impairs creativity.

    One study of mice found that prolonged sleep loss led to irreversible loss of brain cells, and another recent study of humans found that poor sleep habits was associated with faster shrinking brain mass over time.

    Sleep also makes your mood less pleasant and makes you more likely to lose patience or snap at others as you are more likely to over react negative stimuli. A tired brain is less capable of dealing with stress and more prone to irritability. Chronic sleep loss is also linked with increased depression risk.

    It makes accidents more likely.

    Decision making skills, attention times, and reaction times are all impaired by drowsiness and fatigue. This means sleepy people are more likely to make errors, and less able to avoid or react quickly to the environment.

    Sleep deprivation has had disastrous consequences, being listed as a cause or contributing factor on several major airline crashes, the Exxon Valdez oil spill, nuclear reactor meltdowns in the US and Russia, and for other high-profile mistakes that cost lives and/or millions of dollars.

    On the road, drowsy driving is a major concern for public safety. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that at least 100,000 accidents per year and 1550 deaths are attributed to drowsy driving, not to mention $100 billion in associated monetary costs.

    A 2011 National Sleep Foundation survey found that 50% of 19-29 year old drivers, 40% of 30-45 year olds, 30% of 13-18 year olds, and 28% of drivers over 65 admitted to driving tired in the past month, with 12% of 19-45 year olds actually driving drowsy weekly.

    The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety says that young adults and teens, particularly males, are at the greatest risk for driving, and that sleeping less than 5 hours per night is associated with a four to fivefold increase in accidents compared to people sleeping 8 hours.

    Driving drowsy after 16 hours of wakefulness causes impairment on par with a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.05, and after 24 hours impairment is on par with a BAC of 0.10 – which is legally over the limit in all US states. The Mythbusters demonstrated these effects in an episode and found that sleep deprivation actually resulted in worse driving than alcohol!

    Being a drowsy driver places yourself and others at risk of injury, and even if you are driving well-rested, other tired drivers can still pose a danger to you. The NSF says drivers should be particularly alert to fellow travelers around 12AM-2AM, 4AM-6AM and 2PM-4PM, the peak times for crashes and drowsy driving.

    It affects health and healthcare costs.

    Another big area of concern is how sleep affects health, a key focus of public agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC estimates that

    Studies have found that a lack of sleep increases inflammation markers in the body which are believed to be precursors to several illnesses. A lack of rest also impairs the immune system, making you more susceptible to colds and flu’s.

    In the long term, chronic sleep deprivation is tied to increased risks for a host of health problems including diabetes and glucose intolerance, obesity, heart disease, anxiety, depression and Alzheimer disease.

    Ultimately, if you aren’t prioritizing sleep in your life, you are making yourself less productive at work, impairing your relationships and personal growth, and potentially affecting your health and the safety of those around you.

    Although a basic function and not particularly exciting, sleep deserves to be on the national agenda as it intimately affects every single person. We all need to rest and we are all affected by the national sleep epidemic. Start snoozing more and encourage others to practice healthy sleep, too!


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