Sleep deprivation is a common condition that afflicts 47 million American adults, or almost a quarter of the adult population. Symptoms can interfere with memory, energy levels, mental abilities, and emotional mood. A study conducted by the University of Chicago Medical Center in 1999 indicates that the condition drastically affects the body’s ability to metabolize glucose, leading to symptoms that mimic early-stage diabetes.
Exhaustion, fatigue and lack of physical energy are common sleep deprivation symptoms. Exhaustion and fatigue affect our emotional moods, causing pessimism, sadness, stress and anger. The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) has suggested that social problems such as road rage may be caused, in part, by a national epidemic of sleepiness.
The brain’s frontal cortex relies on sleep to function effectively. Insufficient rest adversely affects the frontal cortex’s ability to control speech, access memory, and solve problems. The effect on physical energy is also startling: otherwise healthy people quickly show symptoms of age and early diabetes as glucose metabolism falls by up to forty percent. These physical reactions disappear when the test subject is allowed to rest properly. Driving and other activities can become dangerous without sufficient rest.
Emotional stress or excitement can interfere with sleeping patterns, as can some medical conditions and medication. Food additives and caffeine can also make falling asleep difficult.
Over seventy identified sleeping disorders can disrupt normal nighttime patterns, and more disorders may yet be discovered.
Fortunately, most of these disorders can be treated successfully. Symptoms of a possible sleeping disorder may include:
choking sensations while asleep
excessive use of sleeping pills.
Are We Getting Enough Rest?
The trend in industrialized nations over the last hundred years suggests that people are increasingly sleep deprived. In 1910, the average person slept 9.0 hours a night. By 1975, the total had fallen to 7.5 hours. The 2002 Sleep in America poll, conducted by the NSF, indicates that the average American adult now only sleeps 6.9 hours a night, leading to fatigue, exhaustion and other symptoms. Shift workers suffer more than other people: many shift workers average only five hours a night.
How Much Do You Need?
Different people require different amounts of rest. While the majority of adults should spend between eight to nine hours asleep, a small number of people function perfectly well on only three to four hours of rest. The time a person spends asleep also changes with age:
Zero to 24 months: Thirteen to seventeen hours.
Two year olds: Nine to thirteen hours.
Ten year olds: Ten to eleven hours.
Sixteen to 65 years: Six to nine hours.
Over 65 years: Six to eight hours