Sleepless Nights Plague America

People of all races say lack of shuteye affects their work, even sex lives

MONDAY, March 8 (HealthDay News)-- Americans of all races toss and turn in bed each night, and sleeplessness is affecting their jobs, social lives and even their sexual habits, the latest poll on U.S. sleep habits finds.

"Everybody is sleeping less; we do live in a nation of sleepy people," said Dr. Jose Loredo, a professor of medicine and director of the Sleep Medicine Center at the University of California, San Diego, and a member of the committee that conducted the National Sleep Foundation poll, titled 2010 Sleep in America.

The survey of 1,007 adults across the country found that people sleep almost two hours less than they did 40 years ago. "You need about 8.5 hours of sleep a night," he added.

"Sleep duration is a very important variable in health, especially cardiovascular health," Loredo said. "There is a strong association of sleeping less and hypertension, sleeping less and heart attacks, sleeping less and obesity," he said.

Many Americans seemingly know this, as more than three-quarters surveyed acknowledged that too little shuteye can have serious health consequences.

Too little sleep also takes a toll on daily living, with up to 24 percent saying they have missed work or social engagements because they were too tired. And among married people or couples living together, as many as 26 percent said that they were too tired to have frequent sex.

For the first time, the annual report also identifies differences in sleep habits among blacks, whites and Hispanics. These include:

  • Blacks are most likely to watch TV (75 percent) or pray (71 percent) in the hour before going to bed.
  • Blacks spend more time in bed without going to sleep (54 minutes during the week, 71 minutes on weekends).
  • Nightly lovemaking is most common among blacks and Hispanics. Ten percent of blacks and Hispanics report having sex every night, compared with 1 percent of Asians and 4 percent of whites.
  • Doing job-related work before bed is more common among blacks and Asians than whites or Hispanics.
  • More blacks and Hispanics say they lose sleep over financial worries (12 and 11 percent) than whites (6 percent) or Asians (1 percent).
  • Blacks say they need less sleep, and get 38 minutes less sleep than whites and 34 minutes less than Asians.
  • Fewer Asians (9 percent) say they never or rarely get a good night's sleep than whites (20 percent), blacks (18 percent) and Hispanics (14 percent).
  • Fewer Asians (52 percent) watch TV before going to bed than whites (64 percent), blacks (75 percent) or Hispanics (72 percent), but Asians are most likely to use the Internet every night.
  • Asians report getting the best sleep and infrequently use sleeping pills.
  • Whites are more likely to use over-the-counter sleep aids.
  • Blacks are most likely to use prescription sleeping pills.
  • Blacks have the highest rate of sleep apnea, a common but potentially serious sleep disorder.

What accounts for these ethnic differences isn't clear, Loredo said. "The differences could be cultural or the environment," he said.

Television keeps many people awake, Loredo noted. As does the recession.

Dr. Bruce A. Nolan, an associate professor of clinical neurology, psychiatry and behavioral sciences and medical director of the Sleep Disorders Center at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, said the economic crisis is a common cause of sleeplessness.

"Many people are experiencing more difficulty with sleep related to economic, social and personal circumstances," he said. "It really says that bad days lead to bad nights."

But efforts to improve sleep habits will pay off, Nolan said. "Better quality of sleep gives better quality of life and also gives better performance during the daytime," he said. That helps people to feel better and function better, he said.

The National Sleep Foundation has some tips for getting a good night's sleep:

  • Go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day.
  • Use the bedroom only for sleeping.
  • Consider taking the TV out of the bedroom.
  • Have a relaxing bedtime ritual, like a warm bath or listening to soft music.
  • Keep your sleep environment quiet, dark and cool with comfortable bedding.
  • Reduce caffeine, nicotine and alcohol.
  • Keep your worries for daytime.
  • If you can't sleep, go to another room and do something relaxing until you feel tired.
  • Exercise regularly, but not close to bedtime.

More information

For more information on sleep, visit the National Sleep Foundation.

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