CNN Technology

Sleep problems are costly, dangerous


October 23, 1995
Web posted at: 11:15 p.m. EDT

From Correspondent Lori Waffenschmidt

HOUSTON, Texas (CNN)-- One out of three American adults experiences sleep problems. That can take a toll on the body and the budget. Experts say the indirect costs of sleep disorders top $100 billion a year.

Sleep is a basic human need, much like other physiological drives. To understand this need is what drives scientists to delve into sleep disorders.

For many, sleep is an impossible dream. But researchers are counting Z's at the Veteran's Administration Hospital in Houston, Texas, where sleep disorders and difficulties are monitored and charted.

Experts say sleepy people are accidents waiting to happen.

"If you take all the people that die on the highway from falling asleep at the wheel in a week, and you add them up, that's the equivalent of a major fully loaded airplane crashing every day."

-- Professor Max Hirshkowitz, Veteran's Administration Medical Center.


Driving takes concentration and quick reactions. Yet every day, hordes of tired people are hitting the highways. Sleep problems can affect people on the road, at home, or on the job.

John Hood suffers from severe sleep deprivation. "I'm a butcher and that's no good at all. It interferes with your nerves. I got quite...I still have all my fingers, but I got quite a few nicks on them," said Hood.

He came to the sleep lab looking for help. He wanted anything to give him relief from endless sleepless nights. "It begins to tear you down, because you're not giving the body what it needs," said Hood.


Researchers monitor him closely, to try to detect a reason for his problem. He's attached to a tangle of wires and electrodes connected from his head and body to monitoring equipment. It would seem as though it would be uncomfortable to sleep with so many wires attached, but Hood is so tired he nods off in a matter of moments.


It doesn't take long to spot the problem. "He's attempting to breathe. You see the effort to breathe right here," said Hirshkowitz, pointing to a monitor of a tape displaying Hood's heartbeat.

The diagnosis: sleep apnea. That's when a sleeping person's airway collapses as he breathes, jarring him awake to start breathing again.

"They may do that two, three hundred times per night," said Hirshkowitz.

Hood is relieved to discover the cause of his problem, a common treatable physical condition. A large number of people experience sleep problems for a wide variety of reasons, from stress to poor sleeping habits.

Whatever the cause, Professor Hirskowitz says we are a sleep- deprived society, and that can take a toll on the body. He cautions people to get enough rest.

"Remember sleep is something the brain does. It's an essential brain process," he said.

Now that's something to sleep on.


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