In 1960, according to a survey of several thousand participants, most Americans got an average of 8–8.9 hours of sleep each night. In 2002, a comparison survey found we now get an average of 6.9–7 hours of sleep each night, and a significant proportion of us get even less on a regular basis.1
Even though you burn less calories sleeping, a recent study found that those who sleep less than seven hours a night had an increased risk of obesity. Researchers from Columbia University discovered that sleep deprivation lowers a protein that suppresses hunger and increases another that boosts the desire to eat. The study, which included 18,000 people, concluded that the group at greatest risk was those individuals receiving less than four hours of shuteye per night.
For the most part, we are a sleep-deprived nation. We rush through weekdays, operating on too little sleep and crash on weekends in an attempt to recover. And even for those of us clocking the requisite hours, sleep may be interrupted for a variety of reasons. According to Ralph Pascualy, M.D., medical director of the Swedish Sleep Medicine Institute (SSMI) in Seattle, Wash., both the quantity and quality of our sleep directly affect our health.
From premature aging to a compromised immune system, the side-effects of sleepless nights can add up, according to Barbara Harris, editor-in-chief of Shape magazine and author of Shape Your Life: 4 Weeks To A Better Body — And A Better Life! (Hay House, 2002). During her more than 15 years at the helm of Shape magazine, Harris compiled the secrets to what makes or breaks an effective fitness regimen. She says getting in the best shape of your life requires more than just a good workout.
Being a natural woman is of no benefit when it comes to getting enough sleep. Surveying 1,012 women aged 30 to 60, the National Sleep Foundation discovered that American women only sleep an average of six hours and 41 minutes each night. The survey, reported in Delicious (May 1999), identified reproductive cycles, pregnancy and menopausal symptoms as a major interference in sleep. Two-thirds of the women complained of losing sleep due to headaches, menstrual cramping and pregnancy, while another one-third blamed hot flashes for their insomnia.
“What a great massage. It put me right to sleep.”
For many, to be relaxed enough to fall asleep is a measure of a good massage. On the other hand, for many, it doesn’t take much skill on the therapist’s part for them to slip off to dreamland; they are so sleep-deprived that all they need is the opportunity to let go and drowsiness overtakes them. This seemingly innocuous scenario is symptomatic of an enormous, and hidden, threat to the health of millions of people in the United States alone.