The Value of Sleep

Sleep is big business. People need it. They want it. They’ll spend money to get it. And, according to the bulk of presentations at the 25th annual joint meeting of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society in Minneapolis (SLEEP 2011) last week, the demand for it continues to far outpace the supply. Given these conditions, it’s not surprising that Americans spend nearly $24 billion on sleep-related goods and services annually, and the market for insomnia drugs is predicted to grow by nearly 80%, to approximately $3.9 billion, in 2012, according to market research conducted by Marketdata Enterprises.

Image via Flickr user deansouglass by Creative Commons License.

Evidence of the anything-but-restful sleep market was plentiful in the SLEEP 2011 exhibit hall, with booth after booth of vendors showcasing everything from pharmaceuticals and nutraceuticals to earplugs, continuous positive airway pressure devices, breathing masks, light therapy boxes, aromatherapy sprays, premium mattresses, and customized pillows. There was also row upon row of posters highlighting the latest research on the multiple and varied sleep-related problems that are keeping the vendors in business.

During a walk through the exhibit hall, however, it didn’t take long for the ironic reality of the sleep conundrum to set in. Americans are spending billions of dollars on sleep-related goods and services and researchers are spending billions of dollars seeking insight into the global sleep deficit that, according to the meeting’s scientific program presentations, is leaving children, adolescents, and adults overtired, anxious, depressed, and suboptimally functional and is putting them at risk for a range of adverse health outcomes, including cardiovascular disease, asthma, diabetes, stroke, and obesity. Yet we, as a society, don’t value sleep.

For example, in March of this year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that nearly one third of the country’s adults get less than the minimum recommended 7 hours of sleep per night, and it’s not because they’re not tired: nearly 40% of the survey population reported unintentionally falling asleep during the day and nearly 5% reported nodding off while driving in the preceding 30 days.

Notwithstanding suboptimal sleep quality or quantity resulting from chronic sleep disorders, such as insomnia, obstructive sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, bruxism, narcolepsy, and sleepwalking, the country’s pervasive sleepiness is often a symptom of what has become a “24-hour society,” in which there’s not enough time in a day to do everything we want to do, according to Dr. Michel Cramer Bornemann, co-director of the Minnesota Regional Sleep Disorders Center at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis. Not only have we become accustomed to trading sleep for work, he said in a session on sleep forensics, “we wear sleep deprivation as a badge of honor, as if lack of sleep is synonymous with hard work or achievement, when really it can impede both.”

Sleep is a biological imperative, Dr. Bornemann stressed. When it’s not valued as such,  “everybody pays.”

— Diana Mahoney (on Twitter @DMPM1)

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Filed under Cardiovascular Medicine, Clinical Psychiatry News, Drug And Device Safety, Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Metabolism, Family Medicine, Geriatric Medicine, IMNG, Internal Medicine, Neurology and Neurological Surgery, Otolaryngology, Primary care, Psychiatry, Pulmonary Diseases and Sleep Medicine

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