`Dream On' If You Think You Know Everything about Sleep, Survey Says

Article excerpt

Think cranking up the radio and rolling down the windows can prevent drowsiness on a long car trip?

Do you believe people need less sleep as they get older?

Wrong on both counts.

Americans spend about one-third of their lives asleep, yet most remain ignorant about the benefits of sleep and put their faith in dangerous myths about how much they need, a national survey finds.

"People have no idea how important sleep is to their lives," said Thomas Roth, an adviser to the National Sleep Foundation and director of the Sleep Disorders Center in Detroit.

The foundation surveyed some 1,027 persons between December and February and found that just 14 percent could pass a 12-question test on basic sleep knowledge. Eighty-six percent answered fewer than half the questions correctly.

"Most of us need eight hours of sound sleep to function at our best, and good health demands good sleep," Mr. Roth said in a statement. "Conversely, lack of sleep and sleep problems have serious, often life-threatening consequences."

To boost sleep awareness, the National Sleep Foundation has declared March 30 to April 5 its first National Sleep Awareness Week. Some 175 sites nationwide will offer counseling and sleep information on April 2, National Sleep Day.

"Eight hours' sleep is still the gold standard," Lorraine Wearley, president of the foundation, said at a news conference yesterday. "Better sleep means better performance, better health and better safety."

Almost everyone suffers from the occasional night when sleep is elusive. But Americans regularly shortchange themselves on sleep, said Dr. William C. Dement, considered the "father of sleep medicine." He is director of what was the world's first sleep-disorder clinic, established at Stanford University in 1970.

Americans seem to take a perverse pride in how little sleep they get, yet fail to grasp how much their life and work suffer as a result, he said.

Daytime sleepiness is the "single greatest impairer of mental performance in America," Dr. Dement said.

Worse yet is how many Americans drive cars while drowsy - 57 percent, according to the survey. …