Sorry, friends, but  I slept through this national observance, which was March 5th through 11th!  Last week was exceptionally busy, with out-of-town guests, and being away from my desk a day or two.  I do apologize, but it’s never too late to talk about how important sleep is to everyone – no matter how young or old you are!  Sleep profoundly affects our health and safety.  Just this past Sunday, those of us in parts of the United States reset our clocks forward one hour, losing one hour of sleep.  Experts have said that more early morning car accidents occur the first week after “springing ahead”, because that earlier hour means it’s darker.  The same holds true when we set our clocks back one hour in November, when accidents happen more frequently because it gets darker earlier than we are accustomed to.  

March 2 and 3rd, the National Sleep Foundation’s Sleep Health & Safety 2012 convention took place in downtown Washington, D.C., at the JW Marriott Hotel.  Causes of sleep deprivation were examined from both clinical and public health perspectives.  They offered two tracks – a Health Care Professional Track targeted to primary care physicians that provides CME credits for physicians and health care professionals, and a Public Health Safety Track targeted to public health, transportation, and safety professionals, as well as government officials and sleep researchers.  It will be interesting to read their findings. 

Many Americans are sacrificing their sleep health by working longer into the night.  Thousands of fatigue-related car crashes occur each year.  Many persons have sleep disorders, and most go undiagnosed and untreated.  The National Sleep Foundation recommends that U.S. adults receive on average, 7 – 9 hours of sleep per night.  It is reported, however, that 37.1 per cent of adults say they sleep less than seven hours per night.  Persons reporting sleeping less than 7 hours on average during a 24-hour interval are more likely to report unintentionally falling asleep during the day at least 1 day out of the preceding 30 days, and nodding off or falling asleep at the wheel during the previous 30 days.  Frequent insufficient sleep (14 or more days in the past 30 days) also has been associated with self-reported anxiety, depressive symptoms, and frequent mental and physical distress.  This suggests the need for greater awareness of the importance of sufficient sleep.

Sleep deprivation is one of the most common disorders affecting one-fourth of all Americans.  Those most prone to the effects of sleep deprivation are those late shift or night shift workers, which has been nicknamed the “graveyard shift.”  This name has been assumed for good reason if you understand the large amount of adverse effects sleep deprivation has on late shift workers.  The most helpful thing these folks should know is understanding the natural sleep cycle in humans.  The sleep cycle is dependent on the number of factors, including melatonin, a hormone, which reacts to stimulation from the suprachiasmic nucleus within the brain. (Caught on yet?)  Melatonin has a drowsiness inducing effect on the mind and body and it is secreted when the light begins to dim naturally at the end of each day.  It is only logical to assume that night workers will feel drowsy and sleepy on the job, but bright lights in the work place help to reduce and inhibit melatonin release.  Late shift workers still need at least six hours of sleep to remain healthy.  Sleeping only four hours or less is not enought to sustain good human health.  We all know when we are fatigued, we are more likely to have a workplace accident.

Here is an easy test you can try if you believe you are sleep deprived.  Simply go into a very dark room with a place to recline.  You only need to seclude yourself in a dark room with a reclining chair or bed and close your eyes.  If you can stay awake for 15 minutes, you are not sleep deprived; however, if you find yourself nodding off after only a matter of 5-10 minutes, you are most likely sleep deprived.  It is important to take this tet during the time of day or night when you are usually awake.  There are many steps you can take to get your daily (or nightly) right amount of sleep, as well as eating healthy foods and exercising. 

Now, if someone could just explain to me why I can relax and go to sleep early in the evening in front of the television, then have trouble going to sleep later, it would really help.  Maybe I just answered the question – don’t take catnaps before bedtime!  I hope the sandman visits you when you need to sleep!