Many Americans lose sleep over Sept. 11 attacks
By Paul Recer
WASHINGTON -- Almost seven out of 10 Americans experienced some sleep disturbance after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, says a survey that also shows almost half the people say their sleep is only fair or poor.
A poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation found the death and destruction of the terrorist attacks caused about 69 percent of Americans to have some insomnia during the period immediately after Sept. 11. A survey a year earlier found only 51 percent experiencing insomnia.
James Walsh, president of the foundation and a sleep researcher at St. Luke's Hospital Sleep Medicine &; Research Center in Chesterfield, Mo., said Sept. 11 affected the sleep poll figures for all of 2001 and suggests a generalized increase in sleeplessness.
"Last year's figure was 51 percent for insomnia, and this year it is 58 percent for the entire year," said Walsh. "All the terrorist activities are one of the major stresses in our lives now."
The poll found that women tended to lose more sleep after Sept. 11 than did men. For women, 78 percent reported some insomnia, compared with 59 percent for men.
More poor sleepers also are seeking pharmaceutical help.
"Other studies have shown that the use of sleeping pills and the use of antidepressants went up for a couple of months," Walsh said. "That reflects the overall anxiety in the country."
People who always have been poor sleepers are now having even more trouble, Walsh said.
More people who do not sleep well, he said, "are now attributing it to these worries than to other things."
The sleep survey is based on polling of 1,010 randomly selected adults, interviewed by telephone between Oct. 1 and Dec. 10 last year. The margin of error for the poll is 3 percent.
Asked to rate the quality of their sleep in the days after Sept. 11, 47 percent of those polled said theirs was only fair or poor. This compares to 27 percent in polling not linked to Sept. 11.
The poll found that fewer people than last year are getting eight hours sleep, the recommended minimum. The mean sleep per night of those polled was 6.9 hours, compared with seven hours last year, and only 30 percent said they got eight or more hours, compared with 38 percent last year.
Young people are more apt to wake up tired or to have trouble falling asleep than are the elderly, the poll found. Among people aged 18 to 29, 49 percent said they awoke unrefreshed from sleep, and 33 percent said they had trouble falling asleep. For those aged 30 to 64, the numbers were 41 and 24 percent. For those 65 and over, only 25 percent felt tired upon awakening, while just 19 percent said they had trouble falling asleep.
Walsh said the fall-to-sleep recommendations of the foundation have not changed since Sept. 11. He said people need to limit caffeine, avoid naps late in the day, don't depend on alcohol for sleep and keep a regular bedtime routine and schedule.
Also, said Walsh, people need to set aside time in the day to worry instead of taking their blues to bed with them.
"We actually assign worry time to people so they don't lie in bed at night worrying about things," he said. "They can tell themselves 'I've already thought about that, and I have a plan of action.' These techniques can reduce anxiety when you're lying in bed at night."
The poll also found an increase in irritability and anger among sleepyheads.
"In sleep deprivation, one of the first things that changes is a person's mood," Walsh said. "They become more irritable and short-tempered."