Chronic lack of sleep is more than just a nagging problem.
It's a serious public health issue, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Dr. Frank Horton, of the Toledo Pulmonary and Sleep Specialists at ProMedica Toledo Hospital in Ohio, said the issue involves more than disorders, which include sleep apnea and narcolepsy that are among more than 80 sleep problems that the American Academy of Sleep Medicine recognizes.
A sleep-deprived society pays a high cost, with some industrial, public transportation, traffic, medical and other accidents blamed on lack of sleep.
"Persons experiencing sleep insufficiency are also more likely to suffer from chronic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, depression, obesity, as well as from cancer, increased mortality, and reduced quality of life and productivity," the CDC states on its website.
What's the problem?
While 7½ or eight hours of shut-eye a night may be enough for many, some people require nine or 10 hours and others can get along on five or six hours of sleep, said Dr. Michael Neeb, director of the Mercy Sleep Disorders Center in Oklahoma City. How much sleep people need is what allows them to "get up, get going and be productive," Neeb added.
If that's all it takes, why don't people get a better night's sleep?
"Part of the problem is the way society is structured, which is 24/7 and no defined end point to our day," Neeb said. And all-night access to television, retail and grocery stores, and technology that allows for research, game playing, social networking and work erode sleep time.
"Most people I know commit to eight hours (of sleep) before something comes along and whittles away at that, be it laundry, the kids' homework, a TV show, the computer, ..." Neeb observed.
Horton said environmental noise and light pollution -- computers, television, and radio -- also contribute to the problem.
"And it's clear that with the advent of sleep disorders medicine, you can build up a sleep debt that you can't recover in one night. You have to gradually recover it," Horton said.
But also, a single word sums up what compels many people to sacrifice their sleep.
"Curiosity," Horton said. "We don't want to miss anything."
Though the amount of sleep people require can change with the seasons -- some need less in the summer and more in winter -- Horton said the dilemma also affects schoolchildren.
"I work with a pediatrician here and what is becoming clear over the past several years is that young people in school could be having problems with their schoolwork because they are not getting enough sleep," Horton added.
What should be done about the problem? Neeb said better education is needed.
"Somehow sometimes we look at people who sleep too much as being lazy or nonproductive," Neeb said, adding that getting enough sleep has taken a bad rap.
"We must look at sleep proactively, that we do so for our health, physical and mental," Neeb said.
The lack of structure also is to blame.
"We take work home, hop online to do what we don't get done in the daytime -- everything seems to be moving toward breaking down structure," Neeb said. "We need time to play, work, sleep. We have to really exert a lot of effort into getting more structure into our daily activities."
And take care not to confuse tiredness and fatigue with sleepiness, Neeb said.
"You don't put yourself to bed just because you are physically exhausted. When you are sleepy is when you go to the bedroom. When you are exhausted, the body is keyed up and you need to unwind and relax. That is the best prescription," Neeb said.
"The other major thing is to keep a good schedule. People are often good at putting themselves to bed at a good time. You can't control when you fall asleep but you can control a time when to wake up. If you focus on your morning wake-up and get up at the same time seven days a week, and don't allow yourself to sleep in," the time you get sleepy in the evening will be about the same time nightly.
He urges those who have difficulty sleeping to try getting eight hours a night for two weeks, then see how they feel.
"If you give it a two-week trial, generally you see some improvement, and then people get on board and try to make it their daily life cycle," Neeb said.