March 29, 2005 -- Fewer U.S. adults than ever appear to get a good night's sleep on a regular basis, a trend experts say is affecting the quality of almost every aspect of Americans' daytime lives.
About half of adults say they get a good night's sleep almost every night, according to an annual survey released Tuesday by the National Sleep Foundation. But nearly one in six say that they get less than six hours of sleep per night, a 33% increase over the survey's first report in 1998.
Sleep scientists have long warned that too few hours of restful sleep can have a heavy effect on daytime attentiveness, job performance, and even the risk of obesity and related problems. Researchers now say that too little quality sleep time can also cut into other bedroom activities.
Sleep Problems' Toll on Relationships
Nearly eight in 10 married persons surveyed said their partner has a sleep problem, usually snoring, insomnia, or incessant tossing and turning. A quarter say sleep difficulties force their mate into separate sleeping quarters.
More than 30% of those surveyed said their partners' sleep problems caused strains in the relationship. More than 20% blame chronic sleepiness for less frequent sex, reports the foundation, which officials say receives about one-third of its funding from companies that make machines used to treat sleep disorders.
"We are driving drowsy, we are late for work, and many of us are too sleepy for sex," says Barbara Phillips, MD, a professor of medicine and sleep clinic director at the University of Kentucky.
Researchers asked 1,500 adults via telephone about their normal sleeping habits.
Obesity Escalates Sleep Problems
Experts blame a series of factors for Americans' deteriorating sleep life, including odd hours brought about by shift work. But the rising obesity epidemic appears to be the prime culprit, says Meir Kryger, MD, a professor of medicine and sleep expert from the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada.
Obese adults are nearly twice as likely as normal-weight adults to get less than six hours of sleep per night. Overweight and obese people are at high risk for obstructive sleep apnea, a disorder in which constant breathing cessations cause sudden arousals and poor sleep. As much as a quarter of the adult population suffers from obstructive sleep apnea, which is a risk factor for hypertension and other chronic illnesses, Kryger says.
Still, up to 70% of those surveyed said they have never discussed sleep problems with their doctor, he says.