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Getting Enough Sleep

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    Most of us use weekends to catch up on sleep just a little.  But if you require extra sleep each weekend or are tired during the day, you are probably not getting enough sleep during the night.    

    Everyone's sleep requirements vary between 6-8 hours for an average healthy adult.  Most people need around 8 hours but get substantially less than that every night.

    Sleep deprivation takes its toll in many ways. You're more likely to lose your sense of humor and control of your emotions, be depressed and get sick. It can also be deadly. Driving while drowsy is responsible for more than 70,000 accidents a year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

    Sleep experts say Americans have not been adequately educated on the importance of healthy sleep. As a result, few Americans make sleep a priority. William Dement, M.D., founder and director of the Stanford University Sleep Disorders Center and author of the book The Promise of Sleep, considers the lack of awareness about sleep deprivation to be a national emergency: "The consequences of a sleep-deprived society include lost lives, lost income, disability, reduced productivity, accidents and decreased quality of family and social life." He adds that sleep actually has more influence on longevity than diet, exercise and heredity.

    Are you sleep deprived?

    "If you are falling asleep at times when you don't plan to, that's a sign you're not getting enough sleep," says Thomas Roth, director of the Sleep Disorders and Research Center at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, Mich. Signs you're sleep deprived include:

  • Struggling to stay awake when inactive, such as when watching TV or reading
  • Feeling tired when waking up
  • Needing an alarm clock consistently to wake up
  • Waking up often and having trouble going back to sleep
  • Falling asleep after a heavy meal
  • Having difficulty remembering or concentrating
  • Needing a nap most days
  • Sleeping longer on weekends
  • What you can do to get more sleep

    Managing your sleep debt is easier said than done. Today's 24-hours-a-day society makes our days longer and nights shorter. Roth suggests trying to get at least eight hours of sleep a night, catching up on missed sleep on weekends and napping when possible--and not treating sleep as a luxury. "There is a belief that productive people sleep less," Roth says. "People like Winston Churchill hardly slept, so people view sleep as a waste of time. Nothing could be further from the truth."

    Sleep disorders such as insomnia and sleep apnea further increase the national sleep debt. Increase your chances of getting some quality shut-eye with these tips from the National Sleep Foundation:

  • Consume less caffeine (or none at all)

  • Avoid alcohol

  • Drink fewer fluids before going to sleep

  • Establish a regular bedtime and waking schedule

  • Avoid nicotine

  • Avoid heavy meals close to bedtime

  • Exercise regularly, but do so at least three hours before bedtime

  • Try a relaxing routine, like a hot bath, before going to bed

    "People generally are very poor at estimating how sleepy they are or how close they are to falling asleep," Dement says. "Because of this, they are in jeopardy of creating a tragic accident. Sleep debt is always going to win in the end."

    For additional information on sleep deprivation and other sleep problems, see the following Web sites, which provide detailed descriptions of sleep problems and how to prevent them:

 

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