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CNN Today

National Sleep Foundation Says Americans Need More Sleep

Aired March 28, 2000 - 2:19 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, did you know that this is National Sleep Awareness Week? And if there's one thing we're all aware of, it's that we need more sleep. Most of us may regard being tired as simply annoying. But the experts at the National Sleep Foundation warn that it is much more serious than that. Students are unable to concentrate on their studies, adults are not able to perform well on the job, and on the highway, sleepy drivers cause up to 15,000 traffic deaths a year.

Sleep is something we all need, and here to help us appreciate its importance to good health is Dr. Russell Rosenberg, director of the Northside Hospital Sleep Medicine Institute in Atlanta. Thanks for being with us.

How much sleep did you get last night?

DR. RUSSELL ROSENBERG, DIR., SLEEP MEDICINE INSTITUTE NORTHSIDE HOSPITAL: About seven and a half hours.

ALLEN: And that's not enough, is it?

ROSENBERG: Well,it is enough for me. Some people need as short as five or six hours, and some people need as much as nine. But as a nation, we're chronically sleep deprived.

ALLEN: How do you know how much sleep you need? Just from how you feel during the day?

ROSENBERG: Exactly. You need to feel fully alert and awake throughout the day. It's not normal to be sleepy. Some people sort of think that that's normal to fall asleep when you're watching television or to be in a social situation, but that absolutely is abnormal. So if you either, one, don't feel like you can get to sleep or stay asleep reasonably well and you find sleep is unrefreshing, then it's time to seek help from a sleep specialist.

ALLEN: So we had earlier teased the story, we said, if you feel like you're someone who wants to take a nap at work, we've got a segment for you. Would that mean that you're sleep deprived if you wanted to catch a little cat nap at work?

ROSENBERG: Actually, napping is a part of the natural sleep physiology. We have a dip in the middle of the day that makes us a little bit drowsy, and so taking a short nap can be really helpful. It doesn't mean you're too sleepy. I'm really talking about throughout the day, if you struggle to stay awake. You know, the National Sleep Foundation just published their Sleep in America poll and found that about 30-50 percent of Americans feel sleepy on the job and actually a few do fall asleep on the job.

ALLEN: Well, what is it? Is it our society that's got trouble because we're just -- that's what my gut reaction was. We just go so fast, there is so much to achieve in a given day. What is it about the U.S. that makes us sleep deprived?

ROSENBERG: Well, now with the global economy and things running 24/7, as they say. People are staying up later. I think 50 percent of Americans are staying up later to either watch television or surf the Internet, and there are more things for us to do than ever before. And so, most people will sort of cut their sleep short in an effort to enjoy the other things that they think they should be doing. But they don't realize what the profound consequences can be of sleep deprivation.

ALLEN: Which are, as we heard, the traffic deaths on the road. And we had a report last hour about the number of teenagers getting very little sleep and this sounds like it could be really frightening, because that is setting up a pattern for them, and we all know that there's already a problem with teenagers and driving.

ROSENBERG: Absolutely. The -- I think one in five Americans have fallen asleep behind the wheel of a car, even for just a brief moment, and this is compounded in the younger ages, as this National Sleep Foundation poll shows that more people between 19 and 25 or so will fall asleep than older Americans. So -- and interestingly, in this younger group the study shows that they actually sped their car up when they were sleepy. So they drove faster when they were sleepy, making it sort of a double whammy for us.

ALLEN: Oh my goodness. And, so there are hearings going on in Washington this week, they are trying to get, you know, more information to people about this. You know, what do you say to people who say, I just don't have enough time to get that much sleep, there is too much to do?

ROSENBERG: Well, you have to take the whole problem with sleep seriously. It's a public -- a national public health concern. And you have to take sleep every bit as seriously as you take your diet and exercise and regular health behaviors, because you can only cheat sleep for so long, and eventually it will catch up with you and you will suffer the consequences.

ALLEN: One of the writers in the newsroom wanted to know -- he was just curious -- that if you're dreaming very well does that mean you're getting a good night's rest? Is there any correlation there, do you know?

ROSENBERG: Dreaming is a natural part of the sleep cycles that we go through. It doesn't necessarily mean you're getting a good rest. But it certainly -- for most people, if they're getting good dream sleep, it might mean they're also getting the other types of sleep, deep sleep and so forth.

The real important thing is that if you have trouble with breathing during sleep, like sleep apnia (ph), or snoring, or if you can't get to sleep, or your legs kick or jerk, the important thing is to go see your doctor, because these sleep disorders are now treatable. We have sleep disorder centers all over America now that can treat people who have chronic sleep disturbances.

ALLEN: Good advice. Dr. Russell Rosenberg, thank you for being with us.

ROSENBERG: Thank you.

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