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Posted at 7:00 AM ET, 03/ 7/2011

Wake up! It's sleep awareness week.

By Jennifer Huget

As I write this blog, it's Friday afternoon, and I'm feeling a little bit sleepy. It's been a long week, and it's too late in the day to consume any more caffeine. So I'll soldier through the next few hours until it's time to go to bed.

I take scant comfort in knowing that I'm not alone.

New data released by the CDC to coincide with National Sleep Awareness Week -- which begins today -- paint a less-than-ideal picture of Americans' relationship with sleep. More than 35 percent of nearly 74,571 people surveyed in 2009 reported getting less than 7 hours' sleep a night. (We're supposed to get 7 to 9 hours of sleep daily; children need 10 or 11 hours.) Almost 38 percent admitted to having unintentionally dozed off during the daytime during the 30 days before the survey. Worse yet: Nearly 5 percent of those surveyed had done so while driving.

Though the specific number of hours of sleep we need varies from person to person, getting less than we should can contribute to all manner of health ills:

Insufficient sleep is associated with a number of chronic diseases and conditions -- such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity and depression -- which threaten our nation's health. Notably, insufficient sleep is associated with the onset of these diseases and also poses important implications for their management and outcome. Moreover, insufficient sleep is responsible for motor vehicle and machinery-related crashes, causing substantial injury and disability each year. In short, drowsy driving can be as dangerous -- and preventable -- as driving while intoxicated.

I would like to get more sleep, for sure. But I rise at 6 a.m. most days; to get my 8 hours in, I'd have to be asleep at 10 p.m. After seeing the kids off to bed (but not, I am savvy enough to realize, necessarily to sleep right away) and chatting with my husband, maybe catching another cupcake challenge on Food Network, when am I supposed to read a book or flip through a magazine? My life and schedule are admittedly cushy, compared to many people's, but still I cherish those winding-down hours after the dishes are done. I used to work for a man who claimed he needed just 4 hours' sleep per night. Oh, how I envied him.

The CDC says medical professionals can help steer the sleep deprived toward getting more ZZZs by suggesting the following tactics:

  • keep a regular sleep schedule
  • avoid stimulating activities (e.g., vigorous exercise) within 2 hours of bedtime
  • avoid caffeine, nicotine and alcohol in the evening
  • avoid going to bed on a full or empty stomach
  • sleep in a dark, quiet, well-ventilated space with a comfortable temperature
To which list I would add: Resign yourself to there not being enough hours in the day to do all the things you need, or want, to do.

Do you get all the sleep you should? Take a sec to vote in today's poll! (Then you can take a nap.)

By Jennifer Huget  | March 7, 2011; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Cardiovascular Health, Chronic Conditions, Family Health, General Health, Sleep, Stress  
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People who snore loudly or have their bed partner report that they gasp in their sleep, never feel rested, have morning headaches should get tested for sleep apnea.

Posted by: johnfchick1 | March 7, 2011 9:10 AM | Report abuse

How well you sleep is at least as important as how much. The clinical criteria for sleep apnea miss related breathing issues that can also have 24 hour a day consequences, including sinus and stomach problems, chronic pain and a variety of somatic disorders. Women are particularly likely to slip through the diagnostic cracks. See the discussion of Upper Airway Resistance Syndrome on the extremely informative website developed by Dr. Stephen Y. Park:

Posted by: kds1 | March 7, 2011 11:38 AM | Report abuse

"keep a regular sleep schedule"
I guess they have never worked retail where the schedule has one working until midnight one day and start working at 8 AM the next. Add commute time and tell me how one can get 8 hours of sleep?

Posted by: alterego3 | March 7, 2011 1:53 PM | Report abuse

The question, Jennifer, is: Why do you have to get up at 6 AM?

Also, aren't your kids old enough to be in charge of their own bedtime stuff? I mean, I would get your comment about putting them to bed if they were younger, but I thought they were older than that.

Also, in the evening, you can't do EVERYTHING you'd like to do to relax. You pick and choose. Yes, if you're going to insist on watching TV, that reduces the amount of time available for reading, but that's LIFE. The problem is that what you're really sacrificing is your sleep, which then has a negative effect on everything else.

Posted by: rlalumiere | March 8, 2011 2:05 PM | Report abuse

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