April 4, 2006 -- Millions of people in the U.S. won't get a good night's sleep tonight, and America isn't prepared to fix that problem.
That's the bottom line of a new report from the Institute of Medicine's committee on sleep medicine and research.
The report paints a bleary-eyed picture of sleep in the U.S. "It is estimated that 50 to 70 million Americans chronically suffer from a disorder of sleep and wakefulness, hindering daily functioning and adversely affecting health and longevity," the committee writes.
The committee's chairman is Harvey Colten, MD, of New York's Columbia University. Instead of pulling the covers over their heads or hiding under a bed, Colten and colleagues faced America's sleep problem with their eyes wide open.
Tossing and Turning
Sleep problems are common, often undiagnosed, and potentially harmful, according to the report.
The committee writes that "the majority of people with sleep disorders are yet to be diagnosed," and that sleep problems have been linked to conditions including high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, depression, heart attack, and stroke.
However, it's not always clear if sleep problems cause or reflect those conditions.
More immediate problems include a drop in productivity and a rise in injury risk, especially with drowsy driving. The report states that "almost 20% of all serious car crash injuries in the general population are associated with driver sleepiness, independent of alcohol effects."
Time to Wake Up
If everyone in the U.S. who suffered from bad sleep started seeking help tomorrow morning, the nation wouldn't have the resources to deal with the demand, write Colten and colleagues.
They call for "a well-coordinated strategy to improve sleep-related health care" that includes educating the public and doctors about sleep problems, training more sleep specialists, increasing sleep research, and creating better ways to diagnose and treat sleep problems.