Sleepless in America: A lack of rest reaches epidemic proportions.

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Feeling groggy at work? Nodding off behind the wheel? Too zonked to play with the kids? Welcome to the club.

According to the National Sleep Foundation's 2000 Omnibus Sleep in America Poll, 67 percent of adults get fewer than the recommended eight hours of sleep a night. And they're paying the price. The poll reveals that 43 percent of adults are so sleepy during the day that it interferes with daily activities at least a few days a month. Drowsiness hinders activities a few days per week for 20 percent of those polled (and 33 percent of those 18 to 29 years old).

"People assume that sleepiness is part of being an American. It's a chronic problem," says Darrel Drobnich, director of government affairs at the National Sleep Foundation (NSF). "We get about 20 percent less sleep than our ancestors did 100 years ago. We just don't put a priority on sleep."

Nearly half of the 1,154 adults surveyed (45 percent) say they'll give up precious sleep time to get more work done. But office chores aren't the only reason Americans are up late. Forty-three percent often stay up later than they should to go online or watch TV (55 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds).

Not all sleep loss is voluntary, however. Fifty-eight percent of those surveyed suffer from insomnia at least a few nights a week (69 percent of younger adults and 66 percent of shift workers). A full 34 percent say they toss and turn nightly.

Yet, 61 percent say a doctor has never asked how well they sleep. Indeed, only 5 percent of self-reported insomnia sufferers have ever been officially diagnosed. "It's a huge public health concern. We know from studies that primary care physicians receive very little training in medical school about sleep," Drobnich says. "We've heard from a lot of [doctors] that they're afraid to ask patients how they're sleeping because they're afraid of the answers."

Notably, school kids are burning the candle at both ends too. Although 65 percent of 10- to 18-year-olds must rise before 6:00 a.m. on school days, 21 percent hit the hay after 11:00 p.m. (38 percent of 17- and 18-year-olds). More than a third (36 percent) say they find it somewhat or very difficult to get up on school days, and one in 10 admitted to being late for school at least a few times a month because of oversleeping or tiredness.

Not surprisingly, young adults are at the greatest risk of drowsiness-related car crashes. One recent study showed that those under the age of 25 account for 55 percent of all crashes related to sleep deprivation, Drobnich says. Sixty percent of 18- to 29-year-olds polled by NSF admit to driving while drowsy. Seventeen percent of the total polled say they've dozed off behind the wheel.

Sleep deprivation wreaks havoc in the workplace as well. Twenty-seven percent of adults are sleepy at work two days per week or more (40 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds). And 46 percent say working 10 hours a day - not an unusual schedule - makes them too sleepy to do quality or safe work.

On the plus side, naps are on the rise - 10 percent of those surveyed say they nap before going to work and 35 percent after. And some companies have even woken up to the benefits of a midday snooze. Employers of about one in six surveyed (16 percent) allow naps during the day. Forty-six percent of those able to nap at work do so (62 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds). And another one-third of the total say they would nap during the workday - if given the chance.

For more information, call the National Sleep Foundation at 202-347-3472.

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