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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
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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