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The Toll of Sleep Loss in America

Sleep loss is taking a toll on our physical and emotional health, and on our nation's highways.
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The Dangers of Drowsiness continued...

Sleep-deprived drivers are just as dangerous as drunk drivers, Kaplan says. In one study, people who drove after being awake for 17 to 19 hours performed worse than those who had a blood alcohol level of .05%. (A blood alcohol level of .08% is considered legally intoxicated in many states.)

Kaplan is a big advocate of napping. "Fifteen or 20 minutes may be all you need," he tells WebMD. "One strategy for truck drivers is to take a full cup of coffee, then immediately follow with a 30-minute nap. Caffeine doesn't take effect for about 30 minutes, so you get the benefit of both."

Tips on Getting a Good Night's Sleep

If you're having trouble sleeping, there are many solutions, say sleep experts. Turning off the computer or TV earlier is one simple solution. But other lifestyle issues might be hindering sleep. Sleep specialists advise following good sleep hygiene, including cutting back on caffeine and alcohol. They also advise developing a calming ritual before bedtime - one that helps you break from the day's tensions, and doesn't involve eating, exercise, or watching TV.

Beyond that, sleep medications and behavioral treatments can be effective treatment for chronic insomnia. Behavioral therapy involves changing your negative thoughts and expectations that may worsen your insomnia. Medications can help you break the pattern of insomnia.

"We now have very effective sleep medications," Mahowald tells WebMD. "Many patients have taken these sleep medications for decades without any dependence or tolerance problems. If they need the drugs, they take the drugs. If they don't need them, they don't take them."

"With medication and possibly behavioral therapy, we can make insomnia decidedly better in just a few weeks," he says.

More commonly, chronic insomnia is a conditioned response - a pattern of fearful thinking that develops after a few nights of restless sleep, Mahowald says. "There's worry that it will happen again, which becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy."

By making sure you get enough sleep, you're improving your quality of life. "Sleep deprivation has a cumulative effect, escalating over time in fatigue, sleepiness, stress, mood problems," Kaplan tells WebMD.

"The good news is, although we're learning that sleep disorders are more common than we realized, there are effective treatments, ways to improve symptoms and quality of life for anyone who has a sleeping disorder," says Hunt.

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Reviewed on November 29, 2011
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