To sleep, to dream

fat chance

April 05, 2001

WANT A well-rested work force? Dream on.

We promise the boss the report will be on her desk at 8 a.m., then grab another cup of coffee. We laugh along with Jay Leno's monologue, then set the alarm for 6 a.m. After it rings, we hustle to get ready for our 80-minute commute.

We get only six hours of shut-eye a night -- that is, if the snoring of our equally sleep-deprived mate doesn't keep us awake. We doze off at work, while idling at traffic lights, around the dinner table. We get irritable; we get heart disease; we make mistakes; we make our spouses feel devastatingly unattractive as we nod off in the easy chair to cap off another unromantic evening.

Welcome to America, the Nation That Never Sleeps. Or such is the picture painted by the National Sleep Foundation after its recent poll of 1,004 adults.

The poll traces one of the hidden costs of a full-bore economy and high-tech culture: We're tired. More than a third of those polled said they get less sleep than five years ago. Nearly two-thirds say they get less than the recommended eight hours a night. Seven out of 10 report frequent problems sleeping.

What is stealing sleep? The main thief is work. More than a third of those polled claim to work 60 hours a week. Electronics also seduce America away from slumber: 87 percent said they watch television in the hour before bed. Parents of teen-agers can testify that America Online now wars with sleep on a nightly basis.

Americans, most of them, don't really want to slow down, slough off, try the decaf and take a nap. It's ... it's un-American. We are who we are -- and it sure does make an economy hum.

But the sleep poll is a reminder that nothing comes without cost -- and a warning that the theft of sleep might someday bring our careening lives to a dead stop.

This article appeared Friday as an editorial in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

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