January 1st, 2010

Study shows Americans are sleep deprived

Some say that Americans are less productive than their counterparts in other developed countries, are far too overweight, don’t exercise enough and now, to top it off, don’t sleep enough.

A recent study released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found that 41 percent of Americans report that they have not had sufficient sleep for nearly half of the past month. Worse, up to 11 percent claim they have not slept enough for any of the past 30 days. Only one-third of adults claim they are getting enough sleep every night.

This lack of sleep, say experts, can lead to a number of other ills. Among them are overeating and low energy – which of course would lead to obesity, not exercising enough and being less productive. Insufficient sleep has also been linked to higher rates of depression, anxiety, high cholesterol, hypertension, diabetes and high risk behaviors like drinking and smoking.

“This is a problem that has been building progressively over a number of years,” said Stephen Amira, Ph.D, an instructor in psychology at Harvard Medical School and a clinical psychologist with the Sleep Health Center associated with Brigham and Women’s Hospital, “If you take a look at surveys from 50 to 100 years ago, on average Americans slept eight hours per night. Now, we’re at around 6.9 hours.”

Although not everyone needs the same amount of total sleep, the fact that the overall average has gone down shows that, in general, Americans are cheating themselves on the healthy benefits of a good night’s rest.

Amira blames the problem on our overly-complicated lives, financial pressures and on the prevalence of technology in the world. Stress makes it difficult for many people to sleep well and the technology keeps brains too active to settle into a restful phase.

“Americans have less time spent in leisure activities than in prior decades,” he adds. “With all the demands on our time, something has to give and the things that tend to be sacrificed are leisure time and sleep time.”

The CDC study analyzed data from its Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, the world’s largest continuously conducted telephone health surveillance system, for all 50 states, the District of Columbia and three U.S. Territories (Guam, Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands) in 2008.

The report showed that of the 403,981 respondents, 30.7 percent reported they had no days of insufficient sleep or rest whereas there were 11.1 percent who reported insufficient sleep or rest every day during the 30 days prior. Women were more likely to report lack of sleep than men and non-Hispanic blacks more likely than other racial or ethnic groups.

In New England, the overall picture was very similar to that of the country as a whole. Massachusetts had the highest level of those who got plenty of sleep, at 30.2 percent (compared to only 27.3 percent in Vermont) but Massachusetts also had the highest number of those who didn’t get enough sleep over all of the previous 30 days with 11.8 percent. Interestingly, Vermont had the lowest at 9.7 percent. The rest reported anywhere from one to 13 days or 14-29 days of insufficient rest or sleep.

“There are health risks when we are not well rested,” says Amira. “Also, when people are sleep deprived they tend to be more likely to have mood disorders like anxiety and depression.”

It is a trend that has the potential to affect every aspect of our lives. In the report, the CDC encouraged health care providers to consider “adding an assessment of chronic rest or sleep insufficiency to routine office visits so they can make needed interventions or referrals to sleep specialists.”

By Catherine Robertson Souter

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