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The Causes of Sleep Deprivation in America: a Nation of Walking Zombies

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When we operate a machine, we need to make sure that all of its parts are in good working order so that it will function efficiently. If we are careless, the machine will break down when we least expect it. The same can be said about the most complex of machines, the human body. When the body is sleep-deprived, it is like a car running on a half-empty gas tank. People usually don’t know when their bodies will run out of fuel- and the results can be disastrous. In fact, sleep deprivation has caused tragedy: It is the second leading cause of all car accidents in the United States. At least one-third of Americans, about 85 million people, sleep only six of the eight or nine hours that sleep specialists say is needed each night. According to James Maas, a sleep specialist, this situation has created ‘a nation of walking zombies.’ If people slept eight hours, they would be less drowsy, they would be more alert and productive at work, and they would have more creative and joyful lives. In addition, they would have fewer accidents, making the world a safer place for us all. We clearly need to sleep more and educate people about the three major causes of sleep deprivation: modern technology, insomnia and sleep apnea.

In our society, sleep deprivation has developed along with advances in technology and our longer schedules. Before the invention of the light bulb, people rose when the sun rose and went to sleep when the sun set. Today the division between daytime and nightime is less clear. Because people can work at night with the aid of artificial light, daytime is no longer the only time when people can be awake and productive. Many people lead sleepy lives because they work night shifts at places such as hospitals or factories. In the past two decades, the computer, the fax machine, and the cell phone have extended our schedules around the clock. In addition, our lives are filled with complex obligations both on the job and in the family, and sleep seems to be the first thing we sacrifice when we have too much to do. Although millions of years of biological evolution indicate that nightime is the time for rest, many of us simply ignore the rules of the natural sleep cycle.

In addition to technology, insomnia causes sleep deprivation. Insomnia is the psychological inability to fall or stay asleep. Insomnia can be divided into two categories: short term insomnia, which is temporary and long-term insomnia, which is a chronic condition. People who suffer from stress due to a problem at home or pressure at work often develop short term insomnia. People can also have short term insomnia as a result of temporary environmental factors, such as living in a noisy environment, or from habits like drinking too much coffee and taking stimulants. On the other hand, some people develop long-term insomnia from a chronic condition, such as clinical depression.

The third major cause of sleep deprivation is a physical problem rather than a psychological one. Approximately 20 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea, which is the most common physical disorder that prevents people from getting a good night’s rest. Sleep apnea creates an obstruction in the nose or throat that stops the sleeper from breathing for several seconds. The sleeper gasps for air to keep from choking and therefore, rarely enjoys a deep sleep. Sleep apnea results in snoring- the most familiar symptom of this disorder. Only recently have scientists realised that snoring is not merely an individual’s annoying sleep behaviour, but a sign of his or her difficulty in breathing and an indication that medical attention is needed.

Most Americans regard sleeping as a waste of time. This is the attitude thar sleep specialists are trying to change. Many people are still unaware of the restorative power of sleep. Although not everything is known about sleep, doctors believe that it is essential for our physical and mental well being. We need to reduce sleep deprivation, which is caused by 24-houir schedules, insomnia, and sleep apnea, because one person’s sleepiness can result in the next person’s tragedy.

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