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If You're Sleep Deprived, You're Not Alone

U.S. News & World Report logo U.S. News & World Report 8/10/2018 Dr. Jamie Coleman

© SIphotography/Getty Images Research suggests more than 1 in 3 Americans are getting less than seven hours of sleep a night.

A 36-year-old man is driving his car at 3 a.m. when his car begins to swerve. He loses control of his vehicle and then crashes into a tree. You might automatically assume this person was either under the influence or distracted with his phone when, in fact, he was driving home from work and fell asleep at the wheel. He wasn't drunk driving – he was drowsy driving.

Although drowsy driving might seem less harmful than drunk driving, the effects of sleep deprivation and alcohol are incredibly similar. Drowsy driving mimics drunk driving in that a person's ability to make decisions while sleep deprived is incredibly inhibited. Signs of drowsy driving include: difficulty keeping eyes open, nodding off, missing exits and drifting outside of lanes. Drowsy drivers are simply not able to maintain attention or react quickly, which puts them, their passengers and other drivers at risk.

Sadly, drowsy driving is not a rare occurrence. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, drowsy driving is estimated to cause 72,000crashes a year, and 16.5 percent of all fatal crashes involved a drowsy driver. This isn't surprising, given the National Sleep Foundation survey that showed over half of Americans admitted to driving while feeling sleepy, and 37 percent reported actually falling asleep while driving.

In addition to impaired driving, chronic sleep deprivation leads to many serious health problems. Most healthy adults need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep a night. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 1 in 3 Americans are getting less than seven hours of sleep a night, which is the minimum recommended time. They are thus at risk for chronic sleep deprivation. Consequences of chronic sleep deprivation include: increased risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity and even early death.

Keeping in mind the numerous adverse health effects from sleep deprivation, here are some ways to both recognize the symptoms and get a good night's sleep.

Symptoms of sleep deprivation vary widely, but commonly include:

  • Forgetfulness
  • Irritability
  • Frequent yawning
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty in learning new skills or ideas

Tips for preventing sleep deprivation:

1. Prioritize your sleep. Make sure to devote seven to nine hours of sleep a night. You may need to adjust your schedule in order to accommodate this, but your health depends on it.

2. Limit alcohol intake before bed. Drinking alcohol within two hours of going to bed might make you fall asleep faster, but it prevents your body from getting the type of sleep you need – specifically rapid eye movement, or REM sleep. Lack of REM sleep can then lead to insomnia, as well as an increase in depressive or anxiety symptoms.

3. Turn off more than just the lights. Getting a good night's sleep is often about the routine, and building in true relaxation time the hour prior to going to bed is a key element. Using our smartphones and computers in bed can be double trouble. They emit blue light, which can trick your body into thinking it's not time to go to sleep. In addition, checking email or social media can be emotionally and mentally stimulating, making it more difficult to turn your mind "off."

With over one-third of Americans not getting enough sleep, recognizing and preventing sleep deprivation might be the first step in saving your life – or someone else's.

Copyright 2017 U.S. News & World Report

Video: Too Much Sleep Linked to Early Death, According to Study

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