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American's lack of sleep creates physical and emotional burden

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I’m dating myself here but I remember a time when getting up early to watch Saturday morning cartoons netted you a screen with the station’s call letters and a piercing sound that could wake your parents up (and thus get you grounded from watching cartoons) if you turned on the television before 8 o’clock. Today we have access to news, sports, and even cartoons 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Between our addiction to nicotine, caffeine, work, stress and social media, there’s a plethora of options out there of things to do in the middle of the night aside from sleeping. The result is that about 20 percent of Americans admit they get six hours of sleep or less per night and not surprisingly, the number of Americans who get eight hours or more has decreased. Yet, strong evidence exists that sleep loss is a serious matter, affecting our ability to work, drive, have solid relationships and stay healthy.

Lack of sleep affects more than one third of adults in the United States, contributing to obesity, diabetes, memory loss, and cancer. A new study also links sleep deprivation to heart health. A policy statement put out by the American Thoracic Society finds that quality sleep is essential for maintaining health and quality of life. Not getting enough is dangerous to individual health and public safety.

A link exists between negative health outcomes and adults getting less than six hours of sleep per night or more than nine to 10 hours. Over the course of one 14-year study, nearly 63 percent of the participants who experienced a heart attack also reported having a sleep disorder. Sleep disorders were also associated with anxiety, depression, hostility and exhaustion. In fact, the European Society of Cardiology recommended that doctors consider poor sleep a modifiable risk factor for heart disease along with smoking, lack of exercise and poor diet. Lack of sleep doubles the risk for heart attack and increases the risk of stroke by a factor of four.

Some doctors are taking it very seriously. The Seattle Seahawks were recently in the news for linking performance to sleep, yoga and mindfulness. As part of the team’s culture, they’ve incorporated sleep training into the team’s practice schedule and flight patterns. Sleep isn’t just a big deal for pro athletes and teenagers. Contrary to popular opinion, older adults don’t need less sleep as they age. Insomnia often affects older adults due to anxiety, concerns about aging and even medication. Regardless of the age, sleep deprivation harms every person. If you’re not getting enough sleep, see your doctor. Sleep is essential to good health and quality of life. Sleep issues mask deeper medical issues and can eventually create significant health problems that eventually lead to institutional care or requiring a caregiver.

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