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Sleep Deprivation: The Crisis That No One Is Talking About

man in bed with phone
Image:Minerva Studio/shutterstock

Americans pride ourselves on our industry. While those lazy Europeans demand on things from their employers like “time to spend with their families” and “regular work hours”, Americans will get angry at a colleague for not returning a work email at three AM. We’re burning the midnight oil, baby. Out there chasing that almighty dollar. So what if that means we don’t get a goodnight’s sleep? Sleep is for communists and Frenchmen.

Is that the best attitude to have, though? Is it possible that our pathetic body’s insistence on shutting itself off for a few hours a night is actually serving an important purpose? Are we seriously hurting ourselves by not getting enough rest?

Numerous studies indicate that there are a huge number of American’s who aren’t getting enough sleep. Estimates are 50-70 million Americans regularly get less sleep than they need. 10 percent of Americans have even confessed to being so sleep deprived that they have fallen asleep at the wheel while driving in the past month. 100,000 accidents a year are caused by people falling asleep at the wheel. 1,500 people a year die because they or someone else didn’t get enough sleep.  That is terrifying. Every time you get in your car to drive to work, there is a chance that someone in the next lane will fall asleep at the wheel and swerve into you because they can’t get a good night’s sleep. Almost a third of Americans are chronically under-rested, and ten percent have had their condition progress to the point that they are a full blown public menace. This is a crisis.

But possible vehicular manslaughter aside, how dangerous is it really to not get 8 hours on a regular basis? You’ll be a little tired, but everybody’s tired. What’s the big deal? Interesting you asked that, as getting less than 8 hours is actually a serious health risk. Just a little bit of regular sleep deprivation can have side effects like depression, mood swings, heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, and even hallucinations.

So that friend you know who constantly plays up what a workaholic he is might be making more money than you, but you can take a little solace in the fact that he’s also a ticking time bomb for a full-on psychotic meltdown coupled with a side of diabetes.

Not only that but sleep loss is also linked with obesity and weight gain. This can be a serious problem if you, like many people, also suffer from a condition like sleep apnea, which is the cause of your lack of sleep. Sleep Apnea is a condition where your throat closes while you are sleeping, cutting off your breathing. As you can imagine, it’s tough to get a good night’s rest  when your body is constantly trying to strangle itself. And as you might have guessed, obesity is a serious contributing factor. So you’re overweight, which gives you sleep Apnea, which makes you sleep deprived, which makes you fatter, which makes your Apnea worse. It’s a vicious cycle.

So if so many people are in the middle of a public health crisis, why is no one talking about it?

Well it could be a sense that this is a very private condition. Insomnia afflicts people at night, in their homes. It isn’t a visible problem that tends to catch people’s attention. In addition, one of the most significant causes of the condition, our working schedules, are not something that is easy to change. No one wants to tell their boss that they can’t answer an email after work because they would rather sleep.

Even when companies are aware of, and want to address these problems, for instance by encouraging employees not to work from home, Americans tend to go against those instructions because they take their job too seriously to put sleep ahead of it. It’s a condition we are often forcing onto ourselves.

Of course that also means that it is a problem we can address ourselves. Insist that you will not work outside of regular hours, your health is more important. If you have a condition that is leaving you feeling tired all the time, go see a doctor. There is probably something that can be done. Finally, take your sleep seriously. It is important.

After all, the last thing we want to be is a nation of sleep-deprived diabetics piloting thousand pound machines at sixty miles an hour and falling asleep at the wheel.

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