A study released Thursday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests  that Americans are carving out too little time for sleep.
Published in the agency’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, the study surveyed 19,589 adults living in Delaware, Hawaii, New York and Rhode Island about how many days in the prior month they had gotten insufficient rest or sleep. Researchers did not provide definitions to survey respondents about what was considered “sufficient” sleep and did not ask respondents to report how many hours they slept per night.
Among the respondents, 10% reported that they did not get enough rest or sleep every day in the past month, while 38% reported that they had not slept well seven or more days in the prior month.
In a second study, meanwhile, CDC researchers analyzed data from the National Health Interview Study and found that across all age groups, the percentage of adults who reported sleeping an average of six hours or less per night had increased from 1985 to 2006. When examining this data based on age, the researchers determined that 13.3% of adults age 18-34 reported insufficient rest or sleep in the past month, compared to only 7.3% of adults ages 55 and older.
According to the report, an estimated 50 million to 70 million people nationwide suffer from chronic sleep loss or sleep disorders. This sleep loss is in turn associated with several health problems, including obesity and depression, and can also increase a person’s likelihood of engaging in risky behaviors, including cigarette smoking, physical inactivity, and heavy drinking.
In a 2006 Institute of Medicine report, researchers analyzed the reasons for insufficient sleep and found that they generally fall into two categories: occupational factors such as busy schedules or shift work, or lifestyle factors such as family commitments, late-night television or computer use, or excessive use of caffeine or alcohol.
Calling sleep loss an under-recognized public health problem, the study’s lead author, a behavioral scientist in the CDC’s Division of Adult and Community Health, noted that “At night, we’re doing everything except for sleeping – we’re on the Internet, we may be watching TV. With these new lifestyles we have kind of taken sleep for granted as something that we can do when we have time or we can catch up on it on the weekends.”
So as we celebrate National Sleep Awareness Week this March 3-9, perhaps its time to make a recommitment to sleep. A recommitment to shut off the television in the bedroom, to agree to shut down the computer after dinner and instead focus on winding down, relaxing and preparing for sleep. Need something a little more structured? Consider scheduling in sleep – yes, literally making an appointment to snooze – until going to sleep becomes more natural. (I have both an alarm to wake up in the morning and another to let me know it is bedtime.) If you think you have attempted to address all lifestyle issues that may be coming between you and the sleep you need and are still having trouble, set up some time to talk with your physician to see if there is perhaps an underlying medical reason why your sleep is being compromised.
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