ITHACA, N.Y. -- Burdensome though it is, the $5.2 trillion national debtnever killed anyone. But the national sleep debt is another story,according to Cornell University psychologist and sleep expert James Maas.One hundred thousand traffic accidents caused by drivers falling asleepclaim some 1,500 lives each year in the United States, Maas reports, whilesleep deprivation and sleep disorders cost the American economy at least$150 billion a year.
Hoping to reach those who missed his award-winning documentaries on publictelevision, the sleep seminars and keynote addresses for corporations orhis introductory psychology class at Cornell, Maas has compiled hisfindings and advice in a new book, "Power Sleep" (Villard, 1998). Thebook details the enormous costs to individuals and society of sleepdeprivation, then explains the "architecture and functions" of sleep andoffers a practical guide to balancing a personal sleep budget while copingwith those who can't.
"We've become a nation of walking zombies. More than half the adultpopulation of the United States is carrying a substantial sleep debt," Maassaid. The professor of psychology in Cornell's College of Arts andSciences defines sleep debt as the difference between the hours ofrestorative rest people need -- for optimal physical and mental well-being-- and the number of hours they actually get.
"At any given time, the American sleep debt totals nearly half a billionhours or close to two hours every night for the average American. And justbecause you're lucky or smart enough not to incur sleep debt, that doesn'tmean you're not affected," Maas added. "Any one of those sleep-debtzombies can kill you or hurt in other ways." (See "Am I Sleep-deprived?"quiz, attached.)
A professor, sleep researcher, filmmaker and corporate speaker for morethan 30 years, Maas has grown increasingly concerned about Americans'ignorance of a function we perform every day -- sleep. "Adequate sleep isjust as important as nutrition and exercise. But too many people who carefor their bodies in other ways ignore their need for quality sleep," Maassaid, noting that one-third of all Americans get six hours of sleep a nightor less when they should be getting nine or 10.
"If we can get people sleeping eight hours, that would be wonderful,although still not optimal," Maas said and explained the significance ofthat number. "Between the seventh and eighth hour is when we get almost anhour of REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, the time when the mind repairsitself, grows new connections and puts it all together. REM sleep occursabout every 90 minutes, and the periods of REM sleep get longer as thenight progresses. If you're a six-hour sleeper, you're missing that last,important opportunity to repair and to prepare for the coming day."
For his part, a well-rested Maas steers alertly through a world of zombies.He would never think of scheduling his popular Psych 101 course -- which,at nearly 1,500 students per semester, is the largest live lecture class atany American college -- in the afternoon. People are naturally drowsyafter lunch, so Maas insists on a mid-morning time slot, one of two periods(the other is late afternoon) when humans are at their best and brightest.
The Cornell psychology course devotes about as much time to the psychologyof sleep, (one-third), as people should to sleeping each day. And inreturn for the knowledge, Cornell students act as survey subjects. Surveysby Maas and by a research colleague at Stanford University, physicianWilliam C. Dement, find only 1 percent of students at the elite schools inan alert state all day long. Four out of five Cornell students experiencedrowsiness in the afternoon, and 24 percent say they take a nap each day.
Hopefully, they're not repaying a sleep debt in Maas' class. Because thedozing students would miss one of the psychologist's favorite illustrationsof the costs of sleep deprivation: The price of attending an Ivy Leagueuniversity runs around $29,000 a year, Maas is fond of reminding students.At that rate, each lecture is worth about $80.
"There's nothing wrong with napping," says the man who coined the term"power nap." "But at $80 an hour, you've picked an awfully expensive roomto catch up on sleep."
Am I Sleep-deprived?
>From "Power Sleep: The Revolutionary Program that Prepares Your Mind forPeak Performance"
By James Maas
Indicate true or false for the following statements:
-- I need an alarm clock in order to wake up at the appropriate time.
-- It's a struggle for me to get out of bed in the morning.
-- Weekday mornings I hit the snooze button several times to get more sleep.
-- I feel tired, irritable and stressed out during the week.
-- I have trouble concentrating and remembering.
-- I feel slow with critical thinking, problem-solving and being creative.
-- I often fall asleep watching TV.
-- I often fall asleep after heavy meals or after a low dose of alcohol.
-- I often fall asleep while relaxing after dinner.
-- I often fall asleep within five minutes of getting into bed.
-- I often feel drowsy while driving.
-- I often sleep extra hours on weekend mornings.
-- I often need a nap to get through the day.
-- I have dark circles around my eyes.
Results: Two or more "true" statements may be signs of a sleep problem."Power Sleep" discusses the remedies for sleep deprivation and how toprepare your mind for peak daytime performance by following proper sleepstrategies.
Materials provided by Cornell University. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
Cite This Page: