dear data dog: Who is likely to be getting a good night's sleep these days?

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Someone who keeps a regular sleep schedule of at least eight hours a day; avoids stress, alcohol, tobacco, and caffeinated drinks; and doesn't mind sleeping with the light on. In other words, your cat. As for the rest of us, we're in trouble. The National Sleep Foundation reports that Americans are, for the most part, 50 states in need of 40 winks (www.sleepfoundation.org). On average, adults get a good hour less than the recommended eight during the work week, and most try to make up for it by sleeping in an extra 40 minutes on weekends.

That method clearly isn't working: 40 percent of adults claim to be so sleepy during the day that it interferes with their daily activities, and 18 percent spend at least a few days a week or more in that state. According to parents, 60 percent of children under the age of 18 complain of feeling tired during the day. In addition, 15 percent of school kids admit to falling asleep at school, which might indicate poor sleeping habits, or the English department's refusal to drop Jude the Obscure from reading and discussion lists.

And it looks as though the national sleep deficit is only going to grow. In addition to not getting enough rest, more working Americans are also keeping nuttier hours. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 17.1 percent of 1997's full-time wage and salary workers were working irregular schedules, night hours, or rotating shifts. And the ten fastest-growing occupations from 1998 to 1999, the BLS reports, include computer operators, paralegals, personal care and home health aides, social and human service assistants, and physician assistants (stats.bls.gov:80/news.release/ecopro.t06. htm). The working conditions for each of these jobs, as forecast in the Bureau's Occupational Outlook Handbook, are especially susceptible to wacky shifts, long hours, and frequent schedule and venue changes - just the sort of things that result in sleep deprivation (stats.bls.gov:80/ocohome.htm).

If your idea of employment heaven has always been getting out of that 9-to-5 rat race, here's a wake-up call: Shift workers take more naps during the week, take the longest naps (an average of 2 hours 54 minutes during the work week and 3 hours 50 minutes on weekends), have a higher incidence of sleep problems (73 percent versus 59 percent for regular day workers), and are more likely to report symptoms of insomnia during the week (65 percent versus 53 percent).

They're road hazards as well. The National Highway Transportation Administration's "Drowsy Driving and Automobile Crashes" report concludes that the three groups at highest risk for drowsy driving and drowsy-driving crashes are people with untreated sleep problems, drivers under 30, and...shift workers (www.nhtsa.dot.gov/people/perform/human/ drowsy.html). There's a lot of overlap between the last two: The BLS found that while 16.2 percent of all full-time wage and salary employees in 1997 were shift workers, 25.2 percent of workers between the ages of 16 and 24 did shift work. Think about it: That's at least 10,102,000 workers who don't get enough sleep, work irregular hours, and are still young enough to think they're immortal.

The NHTSA concluded (sensibly enough) that the best way to avoid sleep-related accidents is to get some sleep before driving. The question is, on whose time? After all, most companies frown on their employees' getting paid to snooze. For their survey "Shiftwork Practices 1999," Circadian Technologies, Inc., in Cambridge, Massachusetts, contacted almost 500 companies that conduct around-the-clock operations (www.shiftwork. com). A majority of the companies responding to the survey (57 percent) forbid sleeping on the job and discipline those caught napping. Fifteen percent forbid napping but don't bother disciplining the culprits. Just under 20 percent say they have no policy but don't mind a little napping, so long as it's done discreetly (thus opening themselves up to discrimination lawsuits by snorers). And 6.5 percent permit naps but have no designated area for napping. Only 2 percent both allow naps and provide a designated snooze room - but stop short of handing out glasses of warm milk and blankies.

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