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Published: Monday, 10/1/2007

A real eye-opener

AS IF there aren't enough worries to keep people awake at night, researchers in Britain released a study last week that suggests people who don't get sufficient sleep are twice as likely to die of heart disease.

Wide awake now? Thought so.

Study after study has shown that Americans are working longer hours, sometimes even working more than one job to keep pace with the rising cost of living.

In addition, free time - if such a luxury even exists - is typically spent ferrying children to and from sports practices, lessons, social gatherings, and the million-and-one other structured events that fill up afternoons and often last well into the evening.

The result has been that the eight hours of blissful sack time that was once considered the norm has gone the way of the personal digital assistant, swept aside by the demands of an increasingly complex world. Indeed, researchers now say that seven hours per night, not eight, is ideal for maintaining health as an adult, although there is a certain amount of variation for individuals.

The 17-year study of 10,000 British government workers, conducted by scientists at the University of Warwick, found that the incidence of death from all causes nearly doubled for people who got five hours or less sleep per night, and the risk of cardiovascular death more than doubled. The lack of sleep seemed to be associated with higher blood pressure, which in turn is linked to increased risk of heart attack and stroke

How big a problem might this be? Well, Francesco Cappuccio, a professor of cardiovascular medicine at Warwick, said a third of Britons and more than 40 percent of Americans regularly get less than five hours of sleep per night. "The current pressures in society to cut out sleep in order to squeeze in more may not be a good idea - particularly if you go below five hours," he told Reuters.

Previous studies have shown that working nights and having sleep interrupted regularly can increase health risks, but this is the first study to show a "you-lose-if-you-don't-snooze" link to the number of hours slept per night.

What a relaxing thought for bleary-eyed Americans as they crawl into bed and attempt to turn off the day: Get to sleep so you can get up in five hours and begin all over again.



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