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Is Sleep Deprivation the Next Public Health Crisis?

Sleep Crisis health

Is sleep going to play a role in the next public health crisis? (Photo Credit: BigStockPhoto.com)

One of the tasks of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is to monitor, assess, track, and report on public health hazards.  To the public, this generally means things like flu outbreaks or food poisoning events.  But in recent years, the data collected by the CDC points to a growing threat from an unexpected source, not getting enough sleep.


The Hazards of Sleep Deprivation

While most of us know that getting a good night sleep is important, our society as a whole still treats sleep as something expendable, as something we can skip or go without.  But research results in recent years are beginning to paint a new picture highlighting just how important sleep is to our health and well being.

From preventing accidents to preventing disease, sleep is turning out to be as important to living a long healthy life as clean air, good food, and exercise.  Here are just some of the ways that not getting enough sleep puts  a healthy life in danger.

  • Driving while drowsy increases the likelihood of being in a car accident and as many as 2 million accidents a year may be caused by drivers who are sleep deprived.
  • Sleep deprivation increases the risk for many serious diseases and health problems like diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, obesity, and depression.
  • Lack of sleep impacts many cognitive functions including concentration, memory, and alertness and impedes our ability to learn.
  • Being overtired impacts all our interpersonal relationships and can make us moody, withdrawn, and quick to anger.


What the CDC is Doing

In order to assess the risk and recommend appropriate countermeasures, the CDC began tracking data on sleep behavior in the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System in 2008.  The questions included in that survey related to sleep were expanded in 2009 and the initial data from these surveys were used to assess how big of a problem lack of sleep has become for our society.  These results and those collected in subsequent years will help the CDC refine their understanding of how sleep affects public health and develop more robust recommendations and supportive programs.


What They Found Out

From the 2009 analysis, the CDC found that more than a third of us are getting less than 7 hours of sleep a night.  Most experts like the National Sleep Foundation recommend adults get from 7-9 hours of sleep each night.  This shows that at least 30% of us are suffering from sleep deprivation on a regular basis.   The data also shows that almost 40% of us are experiencing daytime sleepiness that is serious enough that it has caused us to fall asleep unintentionally at least once in the past month.   Amongst respondents, almost 5% reported having falling asleep while driving during the preceding month.

If you consider that obesity is considered to be an epidemic and about 35% of adults are obese, it is easier to see why sleep deprivation and the dire consequences that can accompany it is being elevated to a public health concern.

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