A Snoozing VP and Sleeping Air Traffic Controllers Suggest We're Dangerously Sleep Deprived

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The gallery of politicians snapped during suspended consciousness includes British Prime Minister Gordon Brown before he addressed the United Nations Security Council on April 16, 2008; former President Bill Clinton at Convent Avenue Baptist Church in Harlem during a Martin Luther King Jr. Day commemoration on Jan. 21, 2008; and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., at President George W. Bush's State of the Union address Bush on Jan. 23, 2007.

Rapoport said 80 percent of people who claim not to need much sleep "really require eight hours of sleep -- they either snatch it in other ways or they power through it." The inventor Thomas Edison claimed to sleep only three or four hours a night but napped frequently. Sleep needs may be genetically preprogrammed, but in the meantime "you have to play with what you're dealt."

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How to Avoid Public Snoozing

Rapoport offers the following recommendations:

Know how much sleep you need. "The right amount is the amount that makes you feel good," he said.

Recognize the warning signs of sleep impairment. By the time you notice you've nodded off while driving "you've already done it between five and seven times," said Rapoport. "You've already escaped some pretty awful things." If you're impaired, "either don't drive that day, or think about what it is in your lifestyle that you can change."

Try to establish a regular routine.

Become aware of the warning signs of sleep-disrupting disorders. "The most common marker of those disorders is that you sleep what seems like a reasonable amount of time, and yet you're still sleepy," said Rapoport. Doctors only recently have begun recognizing the impact of sleep apnea, now thought to affect about 20 percent of the population, with similar consequences to sleep deprivation.

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