Counting Sheep

As part of his campaign to educate Chattanoogans about sleep disorders and healthy sleep, Dr. Chandra took the initiative to alert Chattanooga media to the results of the National Sleep Foundation’s Annual Sleep in America Poll.

By: Emily Bregel
For 26-year-old Amanda Gentry, more than six hours of sleep a night is usually a pipe dream.

The Soddy-Daisy resident has to get up at 5:30 a.m. to make it to work at First Tennessee Bank by 8, and she often doesn’t get home until 7 p.m. After taking time to wind-down and sometimes doing a little work at home, she doesn’t get into bed until after 11 p.m. and even then sleep isn’t guaranteed.

“During the day I’m usually OK, but I can tell at night I definitely feel drained,” she said. “Sometimes when I’m trying to go to sleep, I just can’t shut off.

Most won’t be shocked to learn that Ms. Gentry isn’t alone in her long work hours and skimpy sleep habits.
Americans reported getting an average of six hours and 40 minutes of sleep per night on weekdays in a recent poll and are more commonly bringing work home with them.

On average, people are waking up at 5:35 a.m., commuting an average of 47 minutes and going to sleep at 10:53 p.m., according to the survey by the National Sleep Foundation. The annual study was based on a 1,000-person telephone survey conducted at the end of 2007.

Nearly half of those polled said they wake up feeling unrefreshed in the morning and 28 percent of those polled said daytime sleepiness interferes with their daily activities at least a few days every month.

The findings are not groundbreaking, local sleep experts said.

“Frankly, most of the numbers are not surprising,” said Dr. Gabe Tallent, medical director of the sleep disorders center at Erlanger North. “You see it every day.”

Quite commonly, exhausted patients come to a sleep center seeking a diagnosis and treatment, when the best solution may be behavior modifications, said Dr. Vincent Viscomi, director of the Memorial Hospital’s Regional Sleep Center.

“They’ll come in and say, ‘I’m just exhausted.’ Well, what time do you go to bed?’” he said. “At the end of the day, it comes down to you need to get yourself some more sleep.”

Longer work hours and technology that allows employees to bring work home can make an early bedtimes all too elusive.

Americans spend on average 4.5 hours a week working from home, in addition to working an average of 9.5 hours a day, the National Sleep Foundation survey said. Almost one-quarter of those polled did job-related work in the hour before going to bed at least a few nights a week.

“We can’t disconnect from our work life anywhere that we are, be it (because of) cell phones or BlackBerries, and it’s coming at a cost of sleep,” said Dr. Anuj Chandra, director of the Advanced Centers for Sleep Disorders on East Brainerd Road. “We are just a sleep-deprived nation and study after study is showing that.”

About 29 percent of people surveyed had been very tired or actually fallen asleep at work in the past month, the study showed.

Candy Jones works in downtown Chattanooga, takes night classes and has a toddler at home. She said she is lucky to get five to six hours a night, and rarely is her sleep uninterrupted.
“I actually did nod off working on a report last week,” she said. “Usually if I do that, I go find something else to do.”

Of those surveyed, 36 percent said they have nodded off or fallen sleep while driving.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has estimated that 100,000 police-reported crashes are the direct result of driver fatigue each year.

Dr. Viscomi said adolescents are the most sleep-deprived segment of the population, with about 85 percent not getting enough sleep.

“School start times are so early that they often only get six to seven hours asleep a night, when actually they need eight to nine,” he said.

Considering the adverse consequences of chronic sleep deprivation — including heart disease, high blood pressure, irritability, decreased productivity and car accidents — Americans must consider a decent night’s rest integral to overall health, Dr. Chandra said.

“You have to make sleep a priority, just the way you make your blood sugar, your cholesterol (and) your weight a priority,” he said.