Insufficient Sleep a Public Health Epidemic

Stacy M. Brown | 2/5/2014, 3 p.m.
A number of recent medical studies show the troubling consequences that come along with a lack of sleep, such as ...
Courtesy photo

“Lack of sleep is associated with a huge spectrum of health issues including overweight, cardiovascular health, and mental health such as depression and anxiety,” said Ramani Durvasula, a licensed clinical psychologist and a professor of psychology at California State University Los Angeles.

“A lack of sleep does not cause these problems, but it can exacerbate them or make them harder to cope with. We also know that lack of sleep is associated with secretion of stress hormones such as glucocorticoids, which can also impact inflammatory processes and the immune function,” Durvasula said.

Last week, officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta said insufficient sleep has become a public health epidemic. CDC officials recommend seven to nine hours of sleep each night, but said at least one third of adults in the country sleep less than 7 hours each night.

Sleep has increasingly been recognized as important to public health, with sleep insufficiency linked to motor vehicle crashes, industrial disasters, and medical and other occupational errors, according to a CDC study.

Unintentionally falling asleep, nodding off while driving, and having difficulty performing daily tasks because of sleepiness all may contribute to hazardous outcomes.

Those experiencing sleep insufficiency are also more likely to suffer from chronic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, depression, and obesity, along with cancer, increased mortality, and reduced quality of life and productivity, several health care professionals said.

An estimated 50-70 million American adults have sleep or wakefulness disorder, notably; snoring is a major indicator of obstructive sleep apnea.

Alarmingly, CDC officials said four percent of Americans – or 9 million residents – use sleeping pills or sedatives to help them to sleep.

“Humans are the only species that deprives itself of sleep,” said Alan Derickson, professor of labor and employment relations at Penn State University. “You don’t see a cow taking sedatives to get extra sleep.”