Sleepless in America

Lack of sleep may lead to risky behavior, a study finds.

Lack of sleep may make you more inclined to hit the poker table or engage in other risky behavior, a study finds.

Researchers at Harvard Medical School and the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research studied a group of men and women whose sleep was restricted.

People in the study group:

  • Slept one night for eight hours
  • For the next seven nights, got only three hours of sleep a night
  • For the following five nights, got a full eight hours of sleep a night

Researchers gave the sleepers three risk-taking tests at two points during the study:

  • Once at the end of the sleep-deprivation phase (only three hours of sleep a night)
  • Again on the fourth night of the recovery phase (eight hours of sleep a night)

Results of the 2007 study seemed to suggest that the study group took more risks when they were sleep-deprived. Surprisingly, though, their risky behavior also continued into their recovery phase. This shows, researchers said, people also may take more risks for a time after they start sleeping normally again.

Risks on the road

Lack of sleep also makes you more likely to have accidents. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says drowsy drivers cause 100,000 accidents each year.

Sleep deprivation is a serious health issue for young and old adults. It also can lead to accidents in the workplace, sleep experts say. Shift workers, who routinely get little sleep because their hours vary, may live 10 years less than regular workers.

Sleep-deprived workers cost U.S. businesses billions of dollars each year, the National Sleep Foundation says. They are less productive, miss work and make more errors.

 Good "sleep hygiene"

According to a National Sleep Foundation poll, nearly two thirds of Americans have trouble sleeping a few nights each week. If you're one of those people, here are some tips from sleep experts that may help you get a good night's sleep:

  • Avoid late-afternoon or evening naps. They can make it hard for you to fall asleep at night. However, an early afternoon nap of no more than 30 minutes can improve your mood and alertness.
  • Minimize noise, light and room temperature extremes in your bedroom. Don't watch TV, read, eat or work in the bedroom. If you can't fall asleep in 15 or 20 minutes, get out of bed and do something relaxing - such as reading - in another room, until you feel sleepy.
  • Go to bed at about the same time each night.
  • Limit caffeine, alcohol and nicotine. Caffeine and nicotine are stimulants and can keep you awake. Avoid caffeine after lunch and cut back on how much you have each day. Alcohol may help relax you, but can adversely affect your sleep later in the night.
  • Don't eat a heavy meal right before bedtime. It may make it hard to sleep.
  • Exercising during the day can help deepen sleep at night. But a vigorous workout three or four hours before bed may interfere with sleep.
  • If you're a shift worker, try to have a predictable schedule of night shifts. During your night shift, keep the lights bright to trigger wakefulness. For daytime sleeping, eliminate as much noise and light as possible. Talk to your doctor if you cannot get enough sleep during the day.

Sleep is one of the most important things you can do for yourself. Without it, it's hard to focus and respond quickly. Lack of sleep can affect your mood and your health. Chronic lack of sleep may also increase your risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.




© UnitedHealthcare