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Sleepless In America Essay, Research Paper

Sleepless in America

Much like zombies, people of the United States roam the streets;

today s twenty-four hour society is starting to affect many. For most people

sleep has become a disposable commodity. Less than two percent of people

can function on a steady diet of five hours of sleep a night, but many people

try (Caldwell 57). More than 60 million Americans suffer from a severe lack

of sleep. Others that do not have a severe case of sleep deprivation still have

small cases of insomnia. Sleep deprivation is affecting various segments of

American society, including the workplace, schools and roads.

Sleep does not function as a voluntary act. In 1983, Alan

Rechtschaffen showed that going totally without sleep is fatal. He took a rat

and whenever it tried to sleep the floor moved and it had to walk, or it would

run into the wall. The rat soon lost a great deal of weight and died (Caldwell

20). It would take weeks to kill a person of sleep deprivation, but it would

eventually happen. The reason people need to sleep has not been discovered

by scientists. Scientists believe that sleep serves as time for the brain and

body to repair itself and recover the energy lost during the day. The true

reason for sleep is yet to be discovered.

During sleep, the brain goes through five stages. Stage one is light

sleep, and as a person moves through the other stages, sleep becomes deeper

as they reach stage four. The most important stage of sleep is the REM stage,

or rapid eye movement. It occurs after stage four, and lasts for about ten

minutes. The name REM, comes from the fluttery movements that the

eyeballs go through while in this period of sleep. During this stage, a person

is in the deepest period of rest. Although the body is in extreme relaxation,

the brain becomes very active, and dreams begin. The pulse and breathing

rate become irregular, and the levels of adrenal and sexual hormones in the

blood rise, as if a person were in the middle of an intensely emotional or

physical demanding activity. After REM sleep the body descends back to

stage four, but will return to REM sleep after 90 minutes The more REM

sleep a person gets during the night, the better he feels during the day. If a

person lowers his amount of REM sleep he will feel groggy and sleep

deprived the next day. Scientists have not discovered why humans need REM

sleep, but they hope to discover the reason in the future.

On average all people spend about one third of their lives asleep. This

means if a person lives to be 80, he or she will sleep about 27 years (Caldwell

57). To some night owls, the very idea of spending more than 20 years of

one s life in idle snoozing is appalling (Toufexis 78). People may wonder

how many hours of sleep they should be getting a night. There is no absolute

best amount of sleep, just as there is not a best weight or height (Dunkell 1).

There are three categories of sleepers: short sleepers, normal sleepers and

long sleepers. Short sleepers get six hours or less of sleep a night. Some even

sleep as little as three or four hours. Their sleep may be short, but it is also

efficient. Normal sleepers need at least seven to eight hours of sleep. Long

sleepers sleep nine hours or more each night and even need as many as ten to

twelve hours in order to feel refreshed and able to function well the next day.

Since there is such a variation in amounts of sleep people need, it is not good

to tell others they should get a specific amount, because everyone is different.

A person should sleep until they feel rested and ready to go.

Insomnia affects 40 percent of the American population. Ten percent of

people experience a chronic or severe form ( Sleep 1). There are three types

of insomnia: termination, maintenance and onset insomnia. A person with

termination insomnia wakes up in the middle of the night and can not fall

back asleep. Maintenance insomnia occurs when a person wakes up several

times during the night, for short periods of time and then falls back to sleep.

People who have onset insomnia have trouble falling asleep. Reports have

shown that people who suffer from onset insomnia fall to sleep at times as

late as 2 p.m. If anyone suffers from the symptoms of insomnia he should see

the doctor.

Dateline NBC states, Insomnia and sleep deprivation produces

mental and physical changes. These changes are significant threats to health

( Sleep 2). There are several signs of sleep deprivation. The first sign of

sleep loss is a bad mood. Small things seem to take more toll on a person s

feelings than they would if he or she were well rested. Sometimes it can be

hard to detect sleep deprivation, especially if a person suffers only three to

four hours of sleep loss in a one day period. The small signs are the

following: having to rely on an alarm clock to wake up, sleeping later on the

weekends, loss of concentration, feeling tired during boring meetings or

classes and dozing off during the day. These problems may seem small, but

short term insomnia can lead to chronic insomnia, so it needs to be stopped

before it becomes a problem.

A feeling of mild paranoia or fear of others often develops after 72 or

more hours of lost sleep (Caldwell 52). Motivation will also be lost. A

person does not feel like doing anything. After four days of sleep loss,

hallucinations will begin. Little else is known about what happens if someone

goes more than two weeks without sleep. The longest period of time recorded

that a person has gone without sleep occurred in the 70 s. A high school

student doing a science fair project on sleep deprivation set the world record

for 14 days of continually being awake without the help of caffeine or other

drugs. It is reported that the boy suffered from severe hallucinations,

dizziness and extreme paranoia. Many people said that the sleep loss would

cause damage to the boy s brain, but after his experiment he reported no side

effects. To recover from his sleep loss he only needed fourteen hours of sleep

the next day. Even though this boy suffered no long-term damage, it is still

very unsafe to go more than three days without sleep.

The National Commission on sleep disorders reports that 69 percent of

drivers surveyed said they had been drowsy at times while driving ( Sleep

2). This fact is extremely disturbing, because 20 percent of all traffic

accidents are caused by lack of sleep. The statistics are not exact because it is

hard to tell when accidents are caused by drivers falling asleep at the wheel.

Statistics are enough to let people know that sleep deprivation is a huge

safety hazard on the American highways. Experiments have shown that

reaction times slow significantly in evenly moderately sleep deprived people.

It is a factor that has been linked to many traffic accidents. Do not drink and

drive has been the slogan used with Americans before they go out and drive

on the roads for the past years. There should be a new slogan in addition to

Don t Drink and Drive, Don t Drive if you re Sleep Deprived.

Most full time working adults are parents that have to work from early

morning to late evening. The parent then comes home and takes care of a

house of kids. It has been discovered that on average, a working adult with a

family of four gets about four and a half hours of sleep during the day. They

actually get most of their rest while at the job and not at home. Production at

work is being lost because people are taking at least two to three naps a day

at their desk during non break periods (Toufexis 81). Even the president s job

is affected by sleep loss; President Clinton often brags that he only needs five

hours of sleep a night, but he has been caught many times on tape dozing off

during boring speeches and lectures. At dangerous jobs, sleep loss can often

cause severe accidents. The devastating nuclear accidents on Three Mile

Island, Pennsylvania and Chernobyl in the former Soviet Union have been

caused by human error linked to insufficient sleep, as have countless other on

the job mishaps (Weiss C5). Sleep loss is causing loss in production and

making the work place dangerous.

The same complaint can be heard at schools across the country: I m

tired. Sleep deprivation takes a toll on students academic performance and

emotional well being (C6). Sleep loss interferes with creative problem

solving, such as writing an essay. This dilemma can cause test scores and

grades to drop. Adolescents, have a psychological need for extra sleep

compared with other age groups, especially in the morning hours. Critical

sleep for teens is still going on at 7 a.m. (C6). The later critical sleep time is

caused by melatonin, a sleep inducing hormone secreted by the pineal gland

in the brain. During the adolescent stage of life melatonin is secreted later at

night than in later life stages. This causes teens to feel tired later at night and

tired later in the morning.

Most schools start at or around 7:30 a.m., therefore adolescent

students are feeling tired during the day because of their peculiar sleep wake

patterns. A test was done in a Minnesota school district to see how more

sleep would affect students. The students were allowed to start school at 8:30

a.m. rather than 7:30 a.m. The schools that were allowed this had higher

grades, fewer discipline problems and a generally more happy and rested

student body. The students that received an extra hour of sleep in the morning

said they felt more alert and ready for class. No noticeable difference was

noticed for the younger students when they got an extra hour of sleep. The

results for the eleventh and twelfth grades were incredible. Many of the

teachers complained about the change in time at the schools, saying Just tell

their parents to make them go to bed and hour earlier (C7). The body s

biological clock doesn t work that way, the students would just go to bed

staring at the ceiling. Teenagers have a natural need to sleep later.

Each year Americans spend 325 million dollars on medicines

promising improved sleep. 50 million was spent on the hormone melatonin,

the latest rage ( Sleep 3). These drugs can be great for a short period of time

but they can become addictive and prevent deep sleep. They often make a

person feel groggy the next day. People would not have to take these

medicines if they knew proper sleep hygiene. Most sleep hygiene is common

sense, but for Americans it has become a lost idea.

Since sleeping pills can become addictive and prevent deep sleep,

people may ask how they can get a good night s sleep without the help of

drugs. There are several habits to follow in order to get a good night s sleep.

One should remember to never drink caffeine or alcoholic beverages before

sleep because they cause wakefulness. A person needs to stop the use of

nicotine, it takes smokers, even moderate ones, an average of 14 minutes

longer to get to sleep. People need to avoid napping during the day. Sleep can

be compared to a bank account. If a person overdraws during the day they

pay back during the night.

Late night outings are all right every once in a while but making a

habit of it is harmful. One should avoid waking up at different times during

the week. A person needs to get up at the same time everyday, even on the

weekends. People should try to sleep in a room that is silent, pitch black and

between 60 and 65 degrees. A person can not have deep sleep if the room is

too hot, loud or bright. One should not drink much water before going to bed

to avoid the necessity of urinating during the night. People need to have a

daily exercise schedule everyday three hours before sleep because it promotes

muscular relaxation and reduces anxiety and stress. Exercise also triggers a

rise in body temperature followed by a steep decline. Declining body

temperature helps induce sleep. To feel less sleepy during the day one should

avoid carbo-loading. The experts say go with protein to fight fatigue.

Knowing all these tips will make sleep easier.

By any measuring stick, the deaths, illness, and damage due to sleep

deprivation and sleep disorders represent a substantial problem for American

society ( Sleep 2). People should not try to forget that they are tired and

they should get more sleep. A nap every once in a while is O.K. to feel better

during the day, but a person shouldn t rely on naps to get their full amount of

sleep. Americans need to remember to never drive and feel tired at the same

time, because severe accidents can happen. People need to become more

aware of the rules of sleep hygiene and the sleep deprivation problem. Sleep

deprivation affects various segments of American society, including the

workplace, schools and roads.

Caldwell, J. Paul. Sleep The Complete Guide to Sleep Disorder and a

Betternight s Sleep . Buffalo, New York: Firefly Books Inc., 1997.

Dunkell, Samuel MD. Goodbye Insomnia Hello Sleep. New York: Dell

Publishing Co., 1994.

Toufexis, Anastasia. Drowsy America. Time Magazine.

December 17, 1990: 78-85.

Unknown, Sleepless in America. Http://www.dateline.msnbc.com/Sleep.

March 9, 1998.

Weiss, Rick. Wake Up, Sleepy Teens. Washington Post.

September 9, 1997: C5


Source: Toufexis, Anastasia. Drowsy America. Time Magazine.

December 17, 1990: 78-85.

The people of America are not getting enough sleep. This is causing

major loss of production at work. More accidents are occuring on the roads

and at work and more often than they used to. Ever since the U.S has become

a 24 hour society sleep has become an unimportant commodity, when it is

one of the most important things for the human body.

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