Sleep researchers suggest that most adults need between seven and eight hours of sleep every night to maintain good health. But research has also shown that, in the last 20 years, there has been a spike in the number of adults who regularly get fewer than six hours of sleep a night [source: Colten]. At least 40 million Americans experience serious sleep disorders each year, and a further 20 million have occasional sleeping problems [source: NIH]. The CDC reported that 11 percent of Americans in their study said they did not get a single day of sufficient sleep in the previous month.
Sleep research links sleep deprivation to diseases like obesity, heart disease, depression and alcoholism [source: Colten]. Drowsy drivers' reduced reaction times and vigilance has been compared to that of drunk drivers [source: Powell]. A study published in 2008 in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine suggests that as little as 15 to 30 minutes' more sleep per night helped teenagers reduce their number of car accidents over the course of a school year [source: Danner].
The evidence of sleep's importance is relatively clear; so why does this problem persist in our educated society? One could argue that society itself, especially the Western culture that praises nonstop drive and ambition, prevents us from catching up on our sleep. Changing that culture would take widespread public education, something that, unlike recovery from sleep loss, won't happen overnight.