Americans Losing Sleep: Part One

If you watch The Early Show through bleary eyes each day--or miss it completely because you're still sleeping--you may be one of the millions of Americans who don't get enough rest.

In fact, experts say about two thirds of all Americans are chronically sleep-deprived, so much that the average person is sleeping at least one hour less than they should. Nationally, that adds up to a 105 billion hours of lost sleep every year.

That's why some researchers say we're becoming a nation of chronically tired sleepwalkers, who have forgotten what it feels like to be rested. The Early Show host Jane Clayson says she's no exception--so she visited a sleep clinic--where experts monitored her as she slept--to learn more.

"You see, along with twenty two million other Americans, I am a shift worker," Clayson explains. "Like nurses, cops and a growing number of Internet workers, I defy my body's natural circadian rhythms and innate need for eight to nine hours of sleep and go to work in the middle of the night."

That schedule doesn't come without a price.

Of course, the 20% of people who are shift workers aren't the only ones running a chronic sleep deficit. The average working mom who's doing laundry at midnight and is up before dawn packing school lunches is probably getting no more than the five or six hours that Clayson manages.

"Which means we're both running a two to three hour sleep deficit a night," she says.

And sleep debt, like credit card debt, adds up.

To try and keep herself out of sleep bankruptcy, Clayson went to the Columbia Presbyterian Sleep Disorder Center and renowned sleep specialist, Neal Kavey, MD.

Work Often Interferes With Sleep

"It's impossible with my schedule that I could have a continuous eight or nine hours of sleep. There is just no way," Clayson told Kavey.

Two problems were immediately obvious, Clayson says. Her opportunity for sleep is compressed to about 6 hours between about 10 p.m. and 4 a.m., and she is usually wide awake preparing for the next day's show until just before bed.

"No time to wind down ... this is work?" Kavey asks Clayson.

"No time for luxurious baths or candles...none of that," Clayson replies with a laugh.

"And how quickly do you fall asleep?" Kavey asks.

"I'm restless, I'm turning over, I'm re-doing the pillow, looking at the clock, looking around, making sure the clock matches, is it light outside, am I missing my alarm," says Clayson.

"And what time is the alarm set?" Kavey asks.

"Most mornings I wake up before the alarm goes off," she says. "But I wish I could just wake up to that alarm instead of waking up just before it because that makes me feel like I've been worrying about waking up and clearly I have."

Clayson is not alone. An estimated 30 to 40 million Americans have serious trouble sleeping.

"It's a major cost to US society," says Richard Gelula, executive director of the National Sleep Foundation.

"Most people don't get enough sleep, and they don't realize how compromising to everything about us it is to not get enough sleep," Gelula says.

In fact, the cost of sleeplessness to our national economy has been estimated at as much as $100 billion dollars annually. More than 100,000 car accidents a year with 1,500 deaths and 71,000 injuries are also estimated to be fatigue-related--and that's not all.

Fatigue was also found to be a factor in the Challenger space shuttle disaster, the nuclear accident at Three Mile Island and the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

Detecting Sleep Problems

Clayson spent a night in the sleep lab to learn more.

Technician Elton Santana hooked her up to eighteen different electrodes to monitor her brain waves, rapi eye movement and every conceivable vital sign.

The idea is not only to rule out any physical disorders like restless leg syndrome or sleep apnea, but also to get an idea of her sleep patterns, like how often she awakes, how deeply she sleeps and how often she dreams.

Even at the sleep lab, Clayson had the usual anxiety about waking up in time for work.

Also, as there is every night, there was still preparation for the next day's show, a little TV … a final hook up from Santana and it was sleep time at last.

"Believe it or not, hooked up to all of those wires, I did fall asleep," Clayson says.

In the next installment of Clayson's sleep series, she'll share what the doctors discovered by watching her sleep all night, and how they helped her learn the secret to getting a good night's rest.

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