Americans are Sleeping Less than Ever Before
Studies show that Americans are getting less and less sleep, with the average nightly slumber reaching only 6.8 hours. This is much less than the 7.9 hours we were getting in the 1940s with about 30% of Americans getting six or less hours of sleep per night (2013 Gallup poll; National Health Interview Survey).
Opinions Vary on How Much Sleep We Need
How much sleep should we be getting? Well, that depends on who you ask and individual needs. Conventional wisdom is that we should sleep 7-8 hours a night. Yet recently, a variety of sources, such as the WSJ, are suggesting the number is closer to seven rather than eight. While seven hours may be adequate for most people, some studies show that additional sleep time can benefit certain types of people, like elite athletes.
If you ask select executives and health coaches, especially in Silicon Valley, the answer is quite different. Many swear by a competitive edge with only 4-6 hours of sleep per night, even resorting to pharmaceuticals like Provigil off-label to do so. And data shows that financially successful people do in fact sleep less hours per night than those making less money.
Less Sleep Suggests Higher Healthcare Costs
But what’s the cost to our health and healthcare system for not getting enough zzzzzz’s? The data suggests that that sleep deprivation leads to increased chronic disease, including increased risk of heart attack, diabetes, obesity, hypertension and depression. And naturally, that leads to increased healthcare costs.
Sleep Deprivation Causes Accidents and Errors
Lack of sleep also is a top cause of car accidents. A recent high profile case involved a trucker who allegedly hadn’t slept in 24 hours and crashed into Tracy Morgan’s limo, killing one and injuring four passengers. Drowsy driving causes an estimated 1,500 fatalities and 40,000 nonfatal injuries annually, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Getting less sleep affects job performance as well, which can result in serious consequences. Sleep deprivation was determined to be a significant factor in major industrial accidents like Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Exxon Valdez and the Challenger Space Shuttle. Would you want a sleep deprived surgeon operating on you or monitoring you in the hospital? Sleep deprivation increases the risk of medical and surgical errors. In fact, in one study, limiting the number of continual hours that a medical resident had to work decreased the hospital mortality rate for patients hospitalized for medical reasons.
Adequate Sleep is a Necessity
Ultimately, everyone has their own natural sleep patterns and needs, but we need to ask how long we can sustain a shrinking allotment of sleep? Even using the weekend to catch up on lost sleep isn’t the answer. The key seems to be finding the right amount of time that your body needs to feel rested and restored.
Simply put, adequate sleep isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity if we want our bodies and minds to function at their best and our rising national healthcare costs to be kept at bay.
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Tags: Healthcare consumerism