Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

Increased Stress May Be Linked to Sleep Problems

Sleep Problems and Safety Concerns

Sleep and Service Providers

Besides making the link between inadequate sleep and their own mood, behavior, and ability to perform, the poll shows that Americans are concerned about the impact that sleepiness and fatigue can have on certain professionals whose level of alertness is necessary for public health and safety. For example, 86 percent said they would be anxious about their safety if they learned their surgeon had been on duty 24 consecutive hours.

The poll found widespread public support for limiting work hours for physicians, nurses, airline pilots, truck drivers and the police. Specifically, the poll found that:

  • 70 percent believe the maximum number of hours worked each day by a doctor should be 10 or less.
  • 86 percent agreed that a pilot should be allowed to take a nap to overcome drowsiness while flying if another qualified pilot can take over, and 63 percent said a pilot's maximum workday should be eight hours or less.
  • Almost 50 percent supported limiting workdays of police officers, truck drivers, and nurses to a maximum of eight hours.

These findings conflict with general workplace regulations that typically allow for much longer hours of work.

Sleep Problems Increasing

A majority of respondents (74%) said they frequently experienced at least one symptom of a sleep problem in the last year, a small but significant increase over the 2001 poll (69%) and those in previous years (62%).

The most prevalent sleep problem is insomnia; 58 percent of Americans said they experienced at least one symptom of insomnia at least a few nights a week, and more than one-third (35%) reported having such a symptom every night or almost every night in the past year. (Insomnia symptoms are: difficulty falling asleep, waking a lot during the night, waking up too early and not being able to get back to sleep, and waking up feeling unrefreshed). Young adults (18-29) were more likely to report a symptom of insomnia occurring a few nights a week than their older counterparts, (69% vs. 44% for age 65+).

More than one-third of those polled (37%) said they snore frequently. About one in 10 respondents reported experiencing pauses in breathing during sleep. Both snoring and pauses in breathing can be symptoms of a serious sleep disorder, sleep apnea, which is associated with daytime sleepiness, hypertension, heart attack, and stroke.