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Do sleep problems lurk beneath dismal U.S. health report?

Filed in
  • Insomnia
  • Sleep apnea
  • poor sleep

Thomas M. Heffron  |  Jan 09, 2013
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A new report issued Wednesday paints a dismal picture of public health in the U.S.  Can part of the blame be placed on our nation’s sleep problems?

The report was requested by the National Institutes of Health.  It was prepared by the National Research Council and Institute of Medicine.  U.S. data were compared with statistics from 16 “peer” countries.  These are other high-income democracies such as Canada, Australia, France and Japan.

The findings were published in the report, “U.S. Health in International Perspective: Shorter Lives, Poorer Health.”  The expert panel’s conclusions are blunt and stark.

“For many years, Ameri­cans have been dying at younger ages than people in almost all other high-income countries,” states the report brief.  “Not only are their lives shorter, but Americans also have a longstanding pattern of poorer health.”

The news wasn’t all bad.  The U.S. has lower cancer death rates.  We also do a better job of controlling blood pressure and cholesterol.

But we fared much worse in at least nine health areas.  These measures included infant mortality, injuries and homicides, and HIV and AIDS.  We also struggle more with obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

“Other high-income countries outrank the United States on most mea­sures of health,” the report brief states.

Why are we so unhealthy?  There is no simple answer.  The panel pointed to issues such as poverty and the cost of health insurance and medical care.  They also noted that our health problems may be rooted in our behaviors.

The panel of experts didn’t mention sleep.  But maybe they should have.  A recent report from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research Society examined our national sleep problem.

Sleep: A Health Imperative” notes that about 1 in 3 U.S. adults sleep less than 7 hours per night.  The CDC has called this chronic sleep loss a “public health problem.”

Why is a lack of sleep such a big deal?  It’s because ongoing sleep loss has been linked to several of our nation’s biggest health problems. 

It increases your risk of heart disease.  It increases the odds that you will be obese or have diabetes.  It may increase your risk of several types of cancer.  It puts you at risk for drowsy driving accidents and work-related injuries.  It even increases your overall risk of death.

The other problem is that many of us can’t sleep well even when we try.  It is estimated that about 70 million Americans suffer from sleep problems.

One of the worst culprits is obstructive sleep apnea.  It is a sleep illness that affects nearly 30 million adults in the U.S. Untreated sleep apnea increases your risk of heart disease, stroke, obesity, diabetes and depression.

Certainly you can’t put all of the blame on sleep for our national health crisis.  But it is clear that we will be healthier if we sleep better.  What do you think?

Updated Sept. 19, 2016

1 Comment

  1. 1 Raquel Rothe 14 Jan
    The statistics are astounding!  Thank you for sharing this article!