Increased Stress May Be Linked to Sleep Problems

Someone needs a nap.
Someone needs a nap.

Many problems and frustrations that have become part of the American way of life, from anger and stress to obesity, may have inadequate sleep and widespread sleep problems as contributing factors, according to a 2002 poll released by the National Sleep Foundation (NSF).

Poll results show that while many Americans enjoy the benefits of sufficient sleep, as many as 47 million adults may be putting themselves at risk for injury, and health and behavior problems because they aren't meeting their minimum sleep need in order to be fully alert the next day. People in this army of the walking tired are more likely to sit and seethe in traffic jams, quarrel with other people, or overeat, according to the findings.

"The 2002 Sleep in America poll establishes a direct association between how Americans are sleeping and their overall behavior, mood, and performance," said NSF's Executive Director, Richard L. Gelula. "It provides new evidence that the quality and quantity of our sleep plays a significant role in our daily lives. In sum, the poll results paint a new and unique profile of Americans that shows 'you are how you sleep.'" And, based on the findings, Gelula noted, "Some of the problems we face as a society — from road rage to obesity — may be linked to lack of sleep or poor sleep."

The poll compared how respondents described their general moods and attitudes on a typical day with their answers to a number of questions about their sleep. The conclusions suggest a direct correlation between more sleep and heightened daytime alertness with positive feelings that include a sense of peace, satisfaction with life, and being full of energy. Shorter sleep periods and greater indications of daytime sleepiness were related to negative moods such as anger, stress, pessimism, and fatigue.

First Clear Link Between Sleep, Mood

"This is the first time we've actually linked people's mood to their sleep habits in our annual nationwide poll," said NSF President James K. Walsh, Ph.D. "Scientists have documented the link between sleep deprivation, mood and performance in the lab before. But this is the first large-scale view of the extent to which insufficient sleep plays out in the real world each day." Walsh added. Dr. Walsh is executive director and senior scientist at St. Luke's Hospital Sleep Medicine & Research Center in Chesterfield, Mo.

The poll found that nearly one-quarter of American adults, or 47 million people, aren't getting the minimum amount of sleep they said they need to be alert the next day, resulting in what appears to be an epidemic of daytime sleepiness that can impact cognition, performance, and state of mind.

Nearly two in five of those polled (37%) said they are so sleepy during the day it interferes with their activities at least a few days a month, and one in six (16%) said they experience this level of daytime sleepiness at least a few days a week.

Daytime sleepiness is especially acute among younger adults: 44 percent of those aged 18-29 said they experience the problem at least a few days a month compared to 38 percent of 30-64 year olds, and 23 percent of those 65 and over.


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