Some 1 in 4 U.S. adults — 28 percent — sleep six hours or less per night, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Are you one of them?
That lack of adequate sleep can come back to haunt you — with physical or mental health problems, an increased risk of injuries or disability, even a shorter lifespan.
Adequate sleep is an essential step in avoiding errors and accidents, said Dr. Timothy Morgenthaler, aMayo Clinic sleep specialist and incoming president of the academy.
It's also an essential step toward good health, according to anew "Healthy Sleep Awareness Project" seeking to raise awareness and create measurable sleep-behavior change across the U.S.
Sleep is just as necessary to health as good nutrition and exercise, Morgenthaler said, and should be a top priority.
"We know that this is not impossible, because there are many people that are achieving the right amount of sleep," he said.
Heart disease, diabetes, anxiety and obesity have all been linked to poor sleep, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
"It has, in fact, been recognized now by the CDC and the Institute of Medicine that insufficient sleep, and inadequate sleep quality, is actually a national health problem," Morgenthaler said.
For some, poor sleep stems from a medical problem. Obstructive sleep apnea, for example, affects an estimated 12 million to 18 million Americans who remain untreated. Thatcarries with it an increased risk for heart disease, mortality and accident rates.
Sleep environment also can play a role. If you're a firefighter, police officer, medical personnel or convenience store clerk who works overnight, and you sleep during the day, take steps to make sure family and friends don't disturb your sleep, and sleep in a darkened room. There are also FDA-approved sleep aids to help day sleepers.
TheAmerican Academy of Sleep Medicine and Morgenthaler offer these healthy-sleep tips:
• Set a regular bedtime.
• Avoid caffeine, alcohol or problematic medications that interfere with sleep.
• Follow a consistent sleep-wake schedule so your body becomes attuned to both going to bed at the same time each night and awaking at the same time each morning (adults should get seven to nine hours of sleep nightly).
• Pick a sleep schedule you can stick to and set a bedtime routine, such as reading, taking a warm bath or taking meditation.
• Avoid taking electronics, such as cell phones, to the bedroom.
• Avoid over-the-counter sleep aids, which are often allergy medicines that cause drowsiness.
• Seek help if you have sleep problems or sleepiness that persist even though you give yourself plenty of time to get good sleep.
• Get screened if you are obese, snore, have Type 2 diabetes or don't feel rested despite adequate time for sleep.
Morgenthaler says adolescents need more sleep than younger adults or pre-teens.
"There's ample data that shows that they do very poorly in the morning," Morgenthaler said. "They don't learn as well, they don't pay as much attention, they have increased traffic accidents. And there are now very good studies that show that delaying the start time for schools is an important step in improving academic performance for adolescent students. We should be doing that all over the United States."
Of course, pushing back the start time of school will affect family time overall.
"It's kind of like the arguments for diet," Morgenthaler said. "We're actually going to have to make some lifestyle changes to accommodate what is healthy behaviors. We just can't do everything."
Need more information? Morgenthaler recommends the Academy's SleepEducation.com.