Most of us need more sleep, according to medical journal

That extra hour of sleep last weekend doesn’t begin to make a dent in tired for most North Americans.

That extra hour of sleep last weekend doesn’t begin to make a dent in tired for most North Americans.

A first-ever survey of sleep habits among 400,000 adults by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that just three in 10 felt they had gotten a good night’s sleep every evening in the past month; 11 per cent said they hadn’t enjoyed a really restful night in at least a month.

The survey numbers, along with earlier research, suggest that as many as 70 million Americans can be considered as having chronic sleep and wakefulness disorders, CDC researchers said.

The study also confirms earlier research about who has more sleep difficulties: more women than men; more young than old (retirees in particular seem to sleep better); more people with higher education levels than those without a high school diploma; more Latinos and blacks than whites.

There also seems to be a crescent of sleeplessness that runs through the mid-South from West Virginia and Kentucky to Florida, where 13 per cent to 19 per cent of the respondents reported 30 days of insufficient sleep.

Not coincidentally, residents of many of those states have some of the highest rates of chronic health problems, including obesity, diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

Chronic sleepiness impairs the ability to think and process information, doubles the risk of an on-the-job injury and hurts productivity at work and at home.

But the risks of poor sleep also make for another public health concern — accidents due to drowsy driving.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that 100,000 vehicle crashes are caused by driver fatigue each year – out of about five million total wrecks.

But surveys done over the past several years by the National Sleep Foundation suggest the numbers are much higher, with one per cent to four per cent of drivers saying they have crashed a car or had a near-miss due to drowsiness in the past year. That would be more in line with the 10 per cent to 30 per cent of all crashes due to fatigue reported in England and Australia, which have more consistent reporting of accident causes than the United States.

The foundation’s latest annual survey of nearly 1,000 drivers found that 54 per cent admit to fatigued driving at least once in the past year and 28 per cent at least once a month.

Studies have found that being awake for more than 20 hours results in slowed reaction time, decreased awareness and impaired judgment equal to having a blood alcohol level of 0.08 per cent, the legal limit for intoxication.

“People underestimate how tired they are and think that they can stay awake by sheer force of will,” said Thomas Balkin, chairman of the sleep foundation. “Although we are pretty good at recognizing when we feel sleepy, we do not recognize the process of actually falling asleep as it is happening. This robs us of both self-awareness and awareness of our environment.”

Experts say it’s time to get off the road, at least for a coffee break and maybe a 20-minute nap, if you experience:

l Difficulty keeping focus or keeping reveries or daydreams at bay;

l Being unable to remember the last few miles driven;

l Drifting across lanes, onto berms or tailgating;

l Trouble keeping your head up, yawning repeatedly, and frequent blinking;

l Feeling restless, irritable or aggressive.

Lee Bowman writes for the Scripps Howard News Service.

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