Get Sleep: Your Health and Happiness Depend on It

Armen Hareyan's picture
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It's not something to take for granted, ignore or shortchange; rather, sleep is the critical third element, along with diet and exercise, of a healthy, happy lifestyle. Your well-being may depend on how often you can say "I got a good night's sleep."

Sleep's importance was highlighted recently, when the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) released the results of our 2005 Sleep in America poll. We learned that America is nearly evenly divided between people who don't have problems with their sleep, and those who do. We saw a "great American sleep divide."

We celebrate those who sleep well, and hope that it continues.

But we can't ignore those who don't get a good night's sleep. In fact, they shouldn't ignore it either. People need to pay attention to their sleep, to take sleep seriously. When they have trouble sleeping on a regular basis, they should discuss their sleep with their doctor; sleep problems can be an indicator of other medical issues.

Emerging evidence of the link between sleep and health shows that we ignore sleep problems to our own detriment. Sleep is a vital sign of health. In our poll, those with diagnosed medical conditions such as high blood pressure, arthritis, heartburn and diabetes, report that they are less likely to get a good night's sleep than those without these conditions. The 64% of Americans who are overweight or obese also report not sleeping well. They often experience daytime sleepiness and have an increased incidence of sleep disorders, especially obstructive sleep apnea.

Yet too many of us take sleep for granted: we think our problems will go away, that we can 'get by' with less than we need, and that sleep is not important. But when we don't get a good night's sleep, we often suffer. We drag through our days, sometimes in a bad mood, sometimes taking it out on our families, friends and co-workers, taking risks by driving drowsy, and hoping that things will change when we get more sleep.

The consequences of poor or inadequate sleep lurk everywhere. The National Sleep Foundation poll found that in our homes, we live with family members who snore, or don't sleep well. We may even make them sleep elsewhere, so they don't disrupt others' sleep. We sacrifice relationships and intimacy with bed partners, because of sleep problems.

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When poor sleepers climb behind the wheel of a car or truck, their sleepiness and fatigue endangers the lives of others on the road. In fact, a significant majority of licensed drivers, 60%, have driven drowsy over the past year. We sacrifice our safety and the safety of others because of sleep problems.

Poor sleepers bring their problems to work, when they get there. Often they miss work entirely, or are late because they're too tired, oversleep, or have a sleep problem. When they do get to work, they are more likely to make errors. We sacrifice our productivity because of sleep problems.

What won't we sacrifice? Where do we draw the line? When do we decide to say that sleep is important; that we need to get enough sleep to be healthy, happy and fully functional?

I suggest we decide today. As many of us approach summer road trips and vacation time, consider your sleep: how important is it in your life, and how do you feel without sufficient sleep or living with sleep problems?

If you have problems with your sleep, do something about it: learn more about sleep (www.sleepfoundation.org), so that you're familiar with the symptoms of sleep disorders. Get informed about the health and lifestyle consequences of poor or inadequate sleep. Track your sleep habits and the amount of sleep you get, and most importantly, talk to your doctor about it if you aren't sleeping well. You owe it to yourself to say on most mornings, "I got a good night's sleep."

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Richard L. Gelula, CEO, National Sleep Foundation

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