An inadequate amount of sleep can shorten your life in more ways than one. A University of Chicago study of 11 healthy men, ages 17 to 28, found that when their sleep was restricted to four hours for six nights in a row, they aged rapidly. Their levels of hypertension, diabetes, and memory problems rose to levels usually associated with 60-year-olds. Fortunately, as reported in the British medical journal Lancet, the subjects were refreshed after a few nights of 12-hour slumber.
Growing evidence shows that a lack of sleep makes us more vulnerable to infection, as well as high blood pressure, anxiety, weight gain, and stress. Insomniacs have a 40 percent higher risk of developing depression, says Gary Zammit, Ph.D., director of the Sleep Disorders Institute at St. Luke's Roosevelt and Beth Israel Hospital in New York. "To put it in perspective: You can eat, drink, or have sex in just a few minutes, but in order to satisfy your sleep needs, you require an extended period every day. Either sleep is Mother Nature's greatest mistake, or it serves a critical function."
Sleep deprivation causes an estimated 100,000 accidents a year on the road, according to the National Transportation and Safety Board. Insomniacs are 3.5 to 4 times as likely to be in a car accident and 1.5 times more likely to be in a workplace accident. In one survey, more than half of North Carolina drivers who had been in a car accident had slept less than six hours the previous night.
Adding alcohol can be lethal, author Maas says. "Having one drink of alcohol on six hours of sleep affects your ability to drive the same as if you'd had six drinks on eight hours of sleep that night."
With or without the added impact of alcohol, "If you don't take sleep deprivation seriously, you'll pay the price," warns sleep researcher David Dinges.
- On his way from Springfield, Kentucky, to Crossville, Tennessee -- one hour away -- James Rich put his twin-engine plane on autopilot. He woke up six hours later when his gasless plane crashed into the Gulf of Mexico. Though the U.S. Coast Guard rescued Rich, he lost his pilot's license and ruined the $70,000 plane.
- Robert Gaito, an Albany, New York, computer programmer who had been working overtime, thought he had dropped off his 5-month-old son at the babysitter on the way to work. Only after his wife called that evening when she got to the sitter did he check his car and find his son still in his car seat.
- Remember the Exxon Valdez? The oil tanker slammed into an Alaskan reef in 1989. About 11 million gallons of oil were dumped, requiring a $2 billion coastal cleanup -- all due to a sleepy third mate at the wheel.
Continued on page 4: Tips for Zzzzzs