Cranky? You're Likely Fighting Fatigue

From the WebMD Archives

April 2, 2002 -- We're barking at each other everywhere -- on the road, at the grocery store, at work, at home. All this negativity is caused by too little sleep, according to a new poll from the National Sleep Foundation.

The poll shows that nearly one-quarter of American adults -- some 47 million people -- aren't getting the minimum amount of sleep they need to be alert the next day, says Mark Mahowald, MD, spokesman for the foundation.

Adults sleep an average of 6.9 hours per night on weeknights and 7.5 hours per night on weekends. Only 30% of adults are getting the requisite 8 hours of sleep each night, compared with 38% a year ago. Nearly 40% said they are so sleepy during the day it interferes with their activities at least a few days a month.

"Things are actually getting worse, not better," says Mahowald, director of the Minnesota Regional Sleep Disorders Center and professor of neurology at the University of Minnesota Medical School.

Too little sleep has always been linked with poor performance on the job. In fact, several major disasters have been linked with too little sleep -- Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and the Exxon Valdez.

But for the first time, the annual poll made a link between sleep deprivation and all sorts of mood problems -- anger, pessimism, stress.

"It's a little more subtle [than performance], but it has serious ramifications," Mahowald tells WebMD. "There are consequences in the workplace, in family life, behind the wheel."

Daytime Sleepiness Takes a Toll

In the survey, Americans were asked to describe their general moods and attitudes on a typical day. The responses suggest a direct link between more sleep and positive feelings -- a sense of peace, satisfaction with life, and being full of energy. Too-little sleep was linked with daytime sleepiness, negative moods, and fatigue.

Among the findings:

  • Those who got fewer than six hours of sleep on weekdays were more likely to describe themselves as stressed, sad, and angry.
  • People who reported often being sleepy during the day were more likely to describe themselves as dissatisfied with life and angry.
  • Those who reported fewer insomnia symptoms were more likely to describe themselves as "full of energy," "relaxed," and "happy."
  • Those who did not get enough sleep were more likely to get impatient or aggravated with such common annoyances as waiting in line or sitting in traffic. They were also more likely to make mistakes and have difficulty getting along with others.