The price of a good night’s sleep

Getting a good night’s sleep apparently really matters to a lot of people. Just ask the ¬†participants in a recent survey who said they’d be willing to forego a pay raise, extra vacation time or even a month of sex in exchange for sleeping well.

The phone survey, conducted in April with 1,000 U.S. adults, confirms what most Americans have known all along: Many don’t get enough zzz’s at night, and it’s affecting their ability to function during the day and their overall quality of life.

The survey was funded by Pfizer Consumer Healthcare, makers of Advil PM, so not surprisingly, pain ranked as the top reason respondents often found themselves tossing and turning at night.

What was a little more unexpected, at least to me, was the extent to which physical pain and stress were interfering with the survey participants’ ability to sleep well.

Nearly seven out of 10 said they lost valuable shut-eye because of aches and pains. About half said it was because of existing pain from problems such as back injuries. One-third cited stress-related aches and pains – headaches, shoulder aches, neck aches and so on. Another 19 percent were bothered by general aches and pains from a long day, household chores or putting in long hours at work.

Stress was a huge issue for many of the survey respondents as well. Nearly half said work-related stressors were causing them sleeplessness, and 60 percent said they were often sleepless because of family and relationship stress.

Participants could pick as many issues on the list that applied to them, so it’s likely that a number of respondents had multiple problems that kept them from getting a good night’s sleep.

Most of these folks were well aware of the fallout from inadequate sleep.  Eight out of 10 said it affected their performance at work and their romantic relationships; around three-fourths said it had a negative effect on their social life and parenting ability. The vast majority of the survey participants also felt that poor sleep made it more difficult for them to manage chronic or routine aches and pains.

What would they give up in exchange for a good night’s sleep? Just over half said it was important enough for them to be willing to make a trade. Giving up an extra day of vacation a year led the list of sacrifices, followed by small luxuries such as cable TV or a housekeeper or nanny. But get this: 34 percent said they would give up sex for a month in exchange for better sleep, and 32 percent said they’d skip a raise or bonus at work.

Some other nuggets from the survey:

– Half of the respondents said a sleepless night caused them to perform poorly at work, and nearly three-fourths said it caused them to fall behind on household chores.

– Nearly nine out of 10 said that when they had a bad night, they woke up dreading a rough day ahead and didn’t want to get out of bed.

– On average, survey respondents reported six to seven hours of sleep per night.

How much sleep is enough? Experts say the answer varies, depending on age and on the individual. Babies generally need 14 to 16 hours a day. For school-aged children, it’s 10 to 11 hours.

Seven to nine hours are recommended for most adults, but it’s clear from the Advil survey, as well as others conducted over the years, that a lot of people consistently get less than this. The impact extends well beyond a difficult day at work or skipping the laundry in exchange for crashing on the couch. Studies have linked inadequate sleep with everything from depression to obesity to shorter lifespan.

One study, published earlier this year, found that lack of sleep, coupled with disruption of the body’s circadian rhythms, can make people more susceptible to impaired regulation of their blood glucose and metabolism and increase their risk of type 2 diabetes.

In another interesting study, presented last month at the American Heart Association’s 2012 scientific sessions on high blood pressure, Italian researchers followed the sleep patterns of 234 adults with hypertension. The majority of the study participants slept six or few hours a night, and those who reported poor sleep quality were twice as likely to have resistant hypertension as those who slept well.

The cause-and-effect relationship between health issues and inadequate sleep isn’t entirely clear. Do people develop insomnia because they’re depressed, or do they become depressed because they aren’t sleeping enough? Do high blood pressure and lack of sleep influence each other in some way, or are they elements in a bigger, more complicated picture?

Researchers still have a lot to unravel about sleep, how it works, what disrupts it and how it interacts with overall health. In the meantime, getting a better night’s sleep ought to be a serious goal for more folks – without having to sacrifice a pay raise or cable TV.

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