Insufficient Sleep Declared a Public Health Epidemic

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) has released the results of two new studies and added a feature page to its website, declaring, “Insufficient Sleep is a Public Health Epidemic.”

An estimated 50-70 million US adults have sleep or wakefulness disorder, according to the CDC’s statistics. The National Sleep Foundation suggests that healthy adults need 7–9 hours of sleep per day, and school-age children may require 10–11 hours of sleep.

Consequences of Insufficient Sleep

Some of the serious consequences cited by the CDC as linked to insufficient sleep include:

  • motor vehicle crashes,
  • industrial disasters,
  • medical and other occupational errors,
  • difficulty performing daily tasks because of sleepiness,
  • reduced quality of life and reduced productivity,
  • increased likelihood of suffering from chronic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, depression, and obesity, as well as cancer, and
  • increased mortality.

New Statistics Released from Two Studies

The CDC has released two new study reports presenting statistics on the prevalence of unhealthy sleep behaviors and self-reported sleep-related difficulties among U.S. adults. The CDC concludes that these and other data demonstrate that insufficient sleep is an important public health concern.

1. The first study, an analysis by the CDC of data on sleep collected in 2009 from 74,571 adult respondents in 12 states as part of the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), found that 35.3% of respondents reported getting less than 7 hours of sleep on average during a 24-hour period, 48.0% reported snoring, 37.9% reported unintentionally falling asleep during the day at least 1 day in the preceding 30 days, and 4.7% reported nodding off or falling asleep while driving in the preceding 30 days.

Those who reported sleeping less than 7 hours per night on average were more likely than those getting more sleep to report unintentionally falling asleep during the day at least 1 day in the preceding 30 days (46.2% versus 33.2%) and nodding off or falling asleep while driving in the preceding 30 days (7.3% versus 3.0%). They also were more likely to report snoring (51.4% versus 46.0%).

2. The second study, in which the CDC analyzed data from 10,896 respondents aged 20 years or older who completed the 2005–2008 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), found that 37.1% of U.S. adults reported regularly sleeping less than 7 hours per night. Short sleep duration was reported most commonly by adults aged 40–59 years (40.3%), followed by adults aged 20–39 years (37.0%), and least frequently among adults aged 60 or more years (32.0%). Insufficient sleep was most common among non-Hispanic blacks (53.0%), followed by persons of other races/ethnicities (41.7%), and Mexican Americans (35.2%), and was least common among non-Hispanic whites (34.5%).

The study also assessed the prevalence of six different sleep-related difficulties. The most prevalent was not being able to concentrate on doing things, reported by 23.2% of U.S. adults. Of the study participants, 13.5% reported three or more sleep-related difficulties. The following percentages of study participants reported the following sleep-related difficulties:

  • 23.2% — difficulty concentrating on things because they were sleepy or tired,
  • 18.2% — difficulty remembering things,
  • 13.3% — difficulty working on hobbies,
  • 11.3% — difficulty driving or taking public transportation,
  • 10.5% — difficulty taking care of financial affairs,
  • 8.6% — difficulty performing employed or volunteer work because of sleepiness or tiredness.

Women were more likely than men to report most sleep-related difficulties, regardless of sleep duration, but both men and women reported greater difficulties if they slept less than 7 hours compared with 7–9 hours. Younger adults were more likely than those aged 60 or over to report having each of the six sleep-related difficulties.

“Perceived sleep-related difficulties were significantly more likely among persons reporting less than 7 hours of sleep than among those reporting 7–9 hours of sleep,” the CDC reported.

The CDC’s Conclusions

Based on these and other study findings, the CDC determined that at least one third of U.S. residents do not get enough sleep on a regular basis, and this impairs their ability to perform daily tasks. Chronic sleep deprivation also has a cumulative effect on mental and physical well-being and can exacerbate chronic diseases.

Consequently, the CDC has concluded that continued public health surveillance of sleep quality, duration, behaviors, and disorders is needed to understand and address sleep difficulties and their impact on health. As a first step, it has launched a campaign to increase public awareness. It has advised that expanded education and training in sleep medicine for appropriate health-care professionals is needed; and that broad societal factors, including technology use and work policies that affect sleep, must also must be considered.

For More Information:

More information on Insufficient Sleep as a Public Health Epidemic is available on the CDC’s Website .

See also our previous article on Eleven Tips for Healthy Sleep.

And, see our resource page on Sleep, Hygiene, Quit Smoking & Other Healthy Practices for Physical Wellness.


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