"A nation of sleep-deprived people

It’s no wonder this country is as messed-up as it is. Nobody is getting enough sleep.

Americans are among the most sleep-deprived people in the world, according to recent studies, and the problem is only getting worse. More and more people are staying up later and getting up earlier, and the social costs are mounting.

Sleepy people get into more car accidents and are less productive at work or school. In just the past week, academic studies came out showing that fewer than half of all women get enough sleep and only 16 percent of teens do.

The findings are no surprise to me, as someone who suffers from obstructive sleep apnea and chronic insomnia. I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I feel like I’ve gotten enough sleep.

When I was a kid, it took nothing short of a thermonuclear explosion to get me up in time for school. In fact, my most vivid memory of my childhood is of running helplessly toward the school bus as it pulled away from my stop.

That’s why I wasn’t surprised to read the results of the survey done of high school students by the University of Pennsylvania. Fully 90 percent of the teens said their grades would improve if school started later.

And, although teenagers need more sleep than younger children, high school starts earlier than elementary school, which makes the problem worse. Students are underperforming on tests held early in the morning because their bodies are starving for sleep.

I don’t think adults are much better off or else there wouldn’t be an entire cooler door full of energy drinks at convenience stores or a Starbucks store on every corner. People need something to kick-start their brains in the morning as they head to work.

Before I sought treatment for my sleep apnea, I was so drowsy in the morning that I had a daily ritual just to get me awake enough to drive. I drank three cups of coffee, ate an entire rack of Peeps and downed two Mini-Thins ephedrine tablets. It’s a wonder my heart didn’t stop any number of times.

And when I say I drank three cups of coffee, bear in mind that Hammer-brewed coffee is unlike any other kind in the world. I require a minimum of six scoops of dark roast coffee per 12-cup pot. My rule of thumb was that if the light of a laser pointer could penetrate the pot of coffee, it wasn’t strong enough.

Back when I had a job, coworkers who accidentally ingested coffee prepared by me would start to suffer heart palpitations, shaky hands and other signs of caffeine intoxication. They quickly learned to stay away.

I’ve been known to use as many as 12 scoops of coffee when I’m particularly drowsy. A normal person would drop dead after drinking a cup of that. It just makes me slightly more alert.

Even now, as an unemployed job-seeking bum, I still require a pot of coffee just to have enough energy to surf Careerbuilder.com for two hours a day, before watching Jerry Springer and live soccer matches from Europe all afternoon.

According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, 85 percent of Americans consume caffeine on a daily basis, with the average dose being about 200 mg, or three strong cups of coffee, several times the world average.

While caffeine has its positive effects, high doses can result in muscle tremors, diarrhea and even death. The body also builds up a tolerance to it, which explains why I could down 10 cups of coffee and still feel sleepy.

It also tends to make one crash. By 4 p.m., I’m in desperate need of a nap. I justify it by noting that both John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan took daily afternoon naps, disregarding the facts that JFK needed rest because of strenuous sex with starlets all day and Reagan was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

The only cure to sleep deprivation, of course, is more sleep. But with most people having to get up earlier and earlier, and wanting to stay up later and later, there doesn’t appear to be a solution. Alcohol makes the situation worse, herbal remedies are ineffective and narcotic pills are dangerous and addictive.

If I could come up with a solution to this, I would. But, frankly, I’m just too damned tired. Wake me up when Springer comes on. I need a nap.



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