In my last dispatch, we saw the very real ways in which sleep deprivation has made us a more dangerous and less efficient nation. Today, I ask you to imagine a different America, where our pilots, truckers, bus drivers and railway engineers are freed from killing shift work and allowed to get their rest; where surgeons, air traffic controllers, nuclear plant workers and oil tanker captains are clear-eyed and peppy; where all of us work smarter and happier because we respect the damage lack of sleep can do and make it our civic duty to catch sufficient Zs.
Slumbo-nation! It would be a safer, more productive, more alert and generally much cheerier America. We're standing, baggy-eyed, on the threshold of a national sleep emergency, so today I ask you to join in our grassroots crusade to save America through slumber. It's a revolutionary notion. And, since every revolution needs a manifesto, this will be ours:
1. Sleep Time is Not Timeout for the Brain.
If anything, your brain is more active when you sleep. It's busy replacing old cells with new ones, re-energizing your organs and muscles, sorting new information and storing the good stuff in long-term memory banks; honing your learning skills and, in general, tidying up the old mental desktop after a busy day of being awake.
When you don't sleep enough, you'll find it harder to learn, you'll be stressed out more easily and you'll make a lot more stupid mistakes. (Like the airline pilot who came home after a long shift of flying with a hankering for a healthy bowl of cereal and did not realize, until he bit into the crunchy treat, that he'd poured himself a healthy serving of Hamster Chow.)
2. Sleep is an Unsung Health Priority.
Sleep disorders and sleep deprivation are serious health problems, but many uninformed primary care physicians continue to dismiss the sleep complaints of their patients as trivial or transient ailments. The American Medical Association is trying to change this by calling on physicians to be more aware of the health effects of sleep. In the meanwhile, the safest bet is to educate yourself on the subject.
3. Sleep Deprivation Has High Costs.
Sleepiness costs us thousands of lives and millions of dollars each year. The personal impact — increased stress, irritability, inefficiency, lack of motivation — is costly, too. We need to rethink the way we run our businesses and our lives, so that sleep is seen as a productive, indispensable priority.
4. Sleep Deprivation May Be Caused by a Serious Sleep Disorder.
Victims of sleep disorders often get little sympathy. We need to take these disorders more seriously and recognize that they can be devastating affairs.