Sleep Deprivation Risks: 1 in 20 Fall Asleep at Wheel, CDC Says

VIDEO: Dr. Richard Besser talks about Americas sleep habits.
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Americans are sleepy -- so sleepy that fatigue takes over in some of the most dangerous situations. About one in 20 survey participants reported they'd dozed off while driving at least once in a month. And more than one-third of the those surveyed said they inadvertently fell asleep at least once in a day.

The data come from two different reports from the Behavior Risk Factor Surveillance System and were published in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

An estimated 50 million to 70 million U.S. adults experience chronic sleep disorders, according to the report, and those nights of unrest can lead to daytime nodding off.

Those between the ages of 25 and 34 were more likely to nod off while driving, and men were more likely to fall asleep in the car than women.

"Most of us believe that there are a lot more fall asleep crashes than reported," said Dr. Allan Pack, director of the Center for Sleep at University of Pennsylvania. "This is probably just the tip of the iceberg. It's probably not reported accurately because a number of states don't even having a 'falling asleep while driving' tick in the box when reporting a car crash."

The first report noted that among the nearly 75,000 participants surveyed in 12 states, 35 percent of them slept less than seven hours a day. Those who got less than the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep were more likely to nod off while driving. Nearly half of Americans reported they snored.

Lack of sleep has been linked to car crashes, industrial disasters, medical mistakes and other workplace accidents.

"I'm not sure that people understand the biology of all this," said Pack. "I think people believe that if they cut back on their sleep there is no real consequence. Everyone knows the dangers of alcohol, but I don't think people understand the dangers of drowsy driving."

Those who slept less than seven hours were also more likely to have difficulty concentrating, remembering, working on hobbies and taking care of their finances.

"[We need] more and more education of the public," said Rosalind Cartwright, head of the department of psychology at Rush University Medical Center, "and awareness of help through accredited sleep centers to rule out or treat obvious causes of poor sleep and to reinforce good sleep hygiene to improve sleep quality."

Lack of Sleep Linked to Obesity, Early Death

Too little sleep has been linked to chronic diseases, such as obesity, and has been strongly associated with other health conditions, as well as early death.

Pack warned: "People need to understand that if they cut back on sleep, they're potentially paying a dangerous price later on."

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