The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) in Washington DC, USA, has just released a startling new report on daytime sleepiness. “An alarming one-third of American adults – 63 million,” according to the report, “scored at levels of sleepiness known to be hazardous on a scientifically validated sleep measurement. Six percent scored at severe levels of sleepiness.”
Out of those reporting daytime sleepiness 40% admit that it does interfere with their day-to-day activities. For some of these it is their social lives that suffer, for others it is their families, but for many it is their workplace activities that suffer.
Daytime sleepiness has also interfered with at least 12% of the respondents’ ability to drive. NSF Board Member Dr. Martin Thory emphasized, “Fall-asleep crashes tend to be deadlier than other crashes, and account for at least 100,000 police-reported crashes and 1,500 fatalities a year in the U.S.” This type of sleepiness is a major contributor to inattention, which accounts for one-sixth of all accidents.
Their findings are the result of a new National Sleep Foundation Gallup Survey entitled “Sleepiness in America” conducted during the spring of 1997. What startled NSF is the discovery that Americans are experiencing even more sleepiness than was previously believed and are being even less concerned about it.
Significant daytime sleepiness according to NSF is “a level of sleepiness that interferes with an individual’s concentration and performance and may lead to psychological problems (such as loss of self esteem, frustration, anger, impaired social, workplace and familial relationships, and educational difficulties).”
When coupled with previous polls and the research being conducted by sleep researchers around the world the implications become even more startling. The dramatic findings of the Sleep Research Center based at Lourghborough University in Leicestershire demonstrate how this sleepiness impairs a person’s problem solving, communication, learning, memory and motor skills performance. The National Commission on Sleep Disorders estimates that sleep loss alone is costing businesses $150 billion a year in higher stress and reduced workplace productivity. Lack of sleep has been cited as a significant contributing factor to the Chernobyl disaster, the Challenger explosion and the Exxon Valdez oil spill.
In their 1995 Gallup Survey the NSF discovered that 49% of the American population reported difficulty getting enough sleep. That represented a 36% increase in the number experiencing sleeping difficulty when surveyed in 1991. Stress is the primary factor cited by 46% of those reporting occasional or frequent insomnia.
“The frantic pace of modern society is leaving more Americans awake when they shouldn’t be,” says the NSF’s Medical Director Dr. Allan Pack. “Pressure to work often supercedes sleep as a priority.” He continues on to point out, “Restful sleep is as important as exercise or a healthy diet in maintaining overall health. But in spite of evidence showing the value of good sleep, few Americans are acting to get the rest they need.”
The NSF discovered that Americans are woefully ignorant when it comes to sleep. “One in four Americans believe that you cannot be successful and get enough sleep,” reads their report, “while 20% say that getting by with less sleep gives you more time to be productive.” But NSF Health and Scientific Advisor Dr. Thomas Roth asserts that this sleepiness is not something to be dismissed so lightly. Thomas, who is also the director of the Sleep Disorders Center of the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, Michigan, goes on to say, “This survey tells us that an overwhelming majority of Americans agree that feeling tired or sleepy can have a negative effect on your productivity, but most of those who experience daytime sleepiness don’t consider it ‘serious’ enough to consult a physician.”
“The costs of insomnia and other causes of sleep deprivation are enormous. Fatigue can impact all aspects of our lives, from our personal relationships to our ability to concentrate and perform daily tasks,” explains Pack. “Sleep loss can even be deadly. One-third of the population surveyed admits to having fallen asleep while driving.”