True or false?
They're all false. But if you got them wrong, you're not alone. A recent telephone survey of 1,027 people conducted by the National Sleep Foundation found that 85 percent failed a simple 12-question quiz on sleep. Not only did they "flunk the exam," but two-thirds of those polled also reported sleeping difficulties.
Most people need eight hours of sound sleep to function at their best, but Americans are averaging only about seven hours of sleep a night. One in three gets only six hours a night.
Sleep can be divided into two crucial phases:
The problem also hits much closer to home. Driver fatigue has been identified as the greatest accident risk factor affecting motor carriers. Furthermore, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that more than 100,000 crashes per year are caused by drivers nodding off behind the wheel and that thousands die as the result of such accidents.
The National Sleep Foundation's poll even found that 23 percent of those questioned had dozed off while driving some time in the past year. It would seem that people know not to drive drunk but not to refrain from driving tired. Rolled-down windows, the car's blaring stereo, and a strong cup of Joe is not going to restore all the alertness necessary for safe driving. If your eyes are closing on you, the only surefire way to save your life as well as others' is to pull over to the side of the road and give in to sleep.
Today's lifestyle is so busy that people often don't have the time to recognize the symptoms of fatigue unless they're at a task that bores them. This has given rise to the notion that boredom brings on sleepiness. In truth, boredom only brings sleepiness to your attention.
Older adults. The elderly, too, cope with a special set of difficulties that keeps them from getting the sleep they need. Aging brings on a host of health-related problems that interrupt sleep, such as pain from arthritis, medications with side effects that disturb rest, or depression brought on by the discomforts of the aging process. More than any other population, the elderly rely on medications that keep them up at night. Moreover, a more sedentary lifestyle doesn't allow for the expenditure of energy that results in restful sleep. Last, a slowing of what is known as delta wave activity in the brain doesn't allow for the same degree of deep sleep per night as enjoyed in youth.
But none of this means in any way that the elderly don't need as much rest as everyone else. The combination of conditions that change the sleep habits of the elderly only indicates that they need to alter their sleep habits so that they get enough shut-eye.
If you're troubled with chronic difficulties falling asleep—or staying asleep—see a doctor. You may discover, for example, that what seems like simple snoring is actually sleep apnea, a treatable condition that repeatedly rouses an estimated 18 million Americans from their dreams during the night.
Other sleep disorders, such as restless legs syndrome (involuntary jerking of the legs just when drifting off) and narcolepsy (sleepiness varying in intensity from weakness when laughing to feeling as though you could sleep endlessly without feeling sated) should also be discussed with your physician.
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