Chronic lack of sleep is more than just a nagging problem.
It’s a serious public health issue, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Dr. Frank Horton, of the Toledo Pulmonary and Sleep Specialists at ProMedica Toledo Hospital, said the issue involves more than disorders, which include sleep apnea and narcolepsy that are among more than 80 sleep problems that the American Academy of Sleep Medicine recognizes.
Dr. Michael Neeb, director of the Mercy Sleep Disorders Center, agreed. “It seems like so much you read these days is about sleep apnea. But the topic is much broader. It’s a fascinating topic as to how we all feel and it’s a public safety issue,” he said.
A sleep-deprived society pays a high cost, with some industrial, public transportation, traffic, medical, and other accidents blamed on lack of sleep.
“Persons experiencing sleep insufficiency are also more likely to suffer from chronic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, depression, obesity, as well as from cancer, increased mortality, and reduced quality of life and productivity,” the CDC states on its Web site.
What’s the problem?
While seven-and-a-half or eight hours of shut-eye a night may be enough for many, some people require nine or 10 hours and others can get along on five or six hours of sleep, Dr. Neeb said. How much sleep people need is what allows them to “get up, get going, and be productive,” Dr. Neeb added.
If that’s all it takes, why don’t people get a better night’s sleep?
“Part of the problem is the way society is structured, which is 24/7 and no defined end point to our day,” Dr. Neeb said. And all-night access to television, retail and grocery stores, and technology that allows for research, game playing, social networking, and work erode sleep time.
“Most people I know commit to eight hours [of sleep] before something comes along and whittles away at that, be it laundry, the kids’ homework, a TV show, the computer, ...” Dr. Neeb observed.
Dr. Horton said environmental noise and light pollution — computers, television, and radio — also contribute to the problem.
“And it’s clear that with the advent of sleep disorders medicine, you can build up a sleep debt that you can’t recover in one night. You have to gradually recover it,” Dr. Horton said.
But also, a single word sums up what compels many people to sacrifice their sleep.
“Curiosity,” Dr. Horton said. “We don’t want to miss anything.”
Though the amount of sleep people require can change with the seasons — some need less in the summer and more in winter — Dr. Horton said the dilemma also affects schoolchildren.
“I work with a pediatrician here and what is becoming clear over the past several years is that young people in school could be having problems with their schoolwork because they are not getting enough sleep,” Dr. Horton added.
What should be done about the problem? Dr. Need said better education is needed.
“Somehow sometimes we look at people who sleep too much as being lazy or nonproductive,” Dr. Neeb said, adding that getting enough sleep has taken a bad rap.
“We must look at sleep proactively, that we do so for our health, physical and mental,” Dr. Neeb said.
The lack of structure also is to blame.
“We take work home, hop online to do what we don’t get done in the daytime — everything seems to be moving toward breaking down structure,” Dr. Neeb said. “We need time to play, work, sleep. We have to really exert a lot of effort into getting more structure into our daily activities.”
And take care not to confuse tiredness and fatigue with sleepiness, Dr. Neeb said.
“You don’t put yourself to bed just because you are physically exhausted. When you are sleepy is when you go to the bedroom. When you are exhausted, the body is keyed up and you need to unwind and relax. That is the best prescription,” Dr. Neeb said.
“The other major thing is to keep a good schedule. People are often good at putting themselves to bed at a good time. You can’t control when you fall asleep but you can control a time when to wake up. If you focus on your morning wakeup and get up at the same time seven days a week, and don’t allow yourself to sleep in,” the time you get sleepy in the evening will be about the same time nightly.
He urges those who have difficulty sleeping to try getting eight hours a night for two weeks, then see how they feel.
“If you give it a two-week trial, generally you see some improvement, and then people get on board and try to make it their daily life cycle,” Dr. Neeb said.
Life sometimes tends to get in the way of a good night’s sleep, though. Dr. Horton admits to sometimes staying up late to watch a special presentation or sports game on TV.
Then, two nights a month he works in the electronic ICU, “And I have to stay awake all night long. It takes days to recover from being up all night. Even though you go home and get sleep, you don’t feel like you want to do anything; you’re moody and tired,” he said, adding that a person’s memory and automatic behavior are also affected.
“You drive someplace and may not remember how you got there. I had a case a number of years ago where a bus driver found himself driving home and he had a busload of people with him. If you are sleep deprived, your reaction time is like that of a person with a couple of drinks in his system,” Dr. Horton said.
The physicians urge good “sleep hygiene” to improve sleep habits. The CDC describes it as going to bed and getting up at the same time every day; remaining moderately active, though avoiding vigorous activity a few hours before bedtime, and avoiding large meals, caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine near bedtime.
Dr. Neeb said while it’s difficult for some to turn off their minds before going to sleep because they review the day and think about the next, he said talking about the day or writing down one’s feelings help.
Otherwise, he said, “If they keep it pent up and it circulates in their brain, it messes up their sleep.”
‘Best sleep ever’
Apparently Dr. Neeb’s suggestions work; it did for Lori Mattson, who is studying at Mercy College to be a polysomnographic — or sleep — technician. She told Dr. Neeb that prior to enrolling in school she had no set schedule and lacked good sleep hygiene. Now, she is in bed by 10 or 11 and gets seven-and-a-half or eight hours of sleep, and she doesn’t set an alarm.
“I don’t always go straight to sleep; I lay there and pray and whatever and that’s normal for me,” she said.
When she wakes during the night, she stays in bed and falls back to sleep. But she’s sleeping better since returning to school.
“I get the best sleep ever. I have excellent sleep now,” she said. “Before I wasn’t sleep good at all. I was reading in bed, watching the news. Now I feel good and well rested.”
Contact Rose Russell at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6178.