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The Price Of Sleepless Nights

About 70 million Americans suffer from sleep deprivation, a problem addressed Thursday by Early Show Health Contributor Dr. Bernadine Healy, who is also president of the American Red Cross.

The consequences of chronic sleep deprivation may be far worse than irritability and poor concentration. New research suggests accumulated sleep debt may cause such serious health problems as obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure.

As a nation, we're used to being tired. About 95 percent of Americans suffer from a sleep disorder at some time in their lives, and 60 percent suffer from some persistent sleep disorder. With workloads and daily stress increasing for many Americans, lost sleep is a looming problem, and one that extends beyond mood and memory problems.

SIGNS OF SLEEP DEBT
Need an Alarm Clock
Feel Drowsy in the Afternoon
Have Trouble Concentrating
Sleep More on Weekends

Sleep scientists at the University of Chicago have found that even in young people, as little as a weeklong sleep debt of three or four hours a night has adverse effects on the body's ability to process carbohydrates, manage stress, maintain a proper balance of hormones, and fight infections.

If you find yourself easily catching colds or keeping colds longer than normal, lack of sleep may be the reason. One researcher said chronic sleep deprivation may be as bad as smoking.

Each of us has a specific daily sleep requirement. The average adult needs about eight hours, plus or minus an hour. Every hour you lose adds to your sleep indebtedness, and you can't expect to catch up by sleeping late on weekends. The lost sleep accumulates and contributes to long-term health problems.

SLEEP TIPS
Set a Sleep Pattern
Go To Bed Earlier
Reserve Bed For Sleeping and Sex
Near Bedtime, Avoid Caffeine And Heavy Foods

If a sleep problem persists for more than a few weeks without explanation, especially if there is a negative impact on your daytime life, such as depression, seek help.

Temporary use of sleeping pills might be helpful, but they should be prescribed by your doctor and used only for short periods because of the risk of developing dependency and then withdrawal symptoms. Even if taken at night, sleeping pills can cause daytime drowsiness, which may make driving and other tasks risky. The same is true of over-the-counter sleep aids.