Like millions of Americans, I have an uneasy relationship with sleep, and I've spent the past year really digging into this under-appreciated aspect of our lives.
I have dreamed up a new way of assembling research, data, new technologies and resources to help provide people with useful information so they can sleep soundly and feel better. (It's called "Sleep School." More on that below.)
It is amazing how much of our society's attention has been obsessed with food and nutrition and countless diet fads in the past few decades.
Even fitness has had its 15 minutes of fame -- from half-marathons to Pilates to personal trainers. Countless magazines and websites extol the 30-day route to fabulous abs or offer endless charts of efficient seven-minute fitness routines.
But sleep, which occupies more than one-third of our lives, has been relegated to a quiet corner of mystery, like a far-off celestial planet that shines bright but appears too far off to really ponder or try to fully understand.
So now, I believe, it is time for sleep.
There has been a spurt in the past few years of both scientific and media attention to the national sleep crisis. While most doctors and sleep researchers say that getting approximately eight hours of sleep each night is optimal, we are averaging 90 minutes less of sleep than we did a century ago. This sleep deficit is affecting our health, our relationships, our productivity and, most alarmingly, our safety.
We know that we have witnessed an obesity epidemic, which, in turn, has led to a record number of cases of diabetes, heart attacks and strokes. But why don't we recognize that a large contributing factor to this epidemic is lack of sleep? It goes without saying that when the body and mind are tired they crave something to help with energy and that fuel happens to be food; in most cases, it's sugary food and fast meals, two of the largest causes of weight gain.
Lack of sleep is also thought to be a threat to public safety. We know of Amtrak train derailments and car accidents that are caused by people who are sleep deprived. The Exxon Valdez oil spill and the nuclear reactor accident at Chernobyl also were the result of sleep-deprived workers.
We are living in an age where insomnia and sleep deficits are afflicting many different groups in America -- new parents (of course), business travelers, shift workers, high school and college students, menopausal women, seniors and C-suite executives among others.
Many medical professionals say that the problem of insomnia and sleep deficits amounts to a national health crisis. But it has been hard to get this message across in a society that demands long work hours, overachievement, late night partying, shift work and other sleep killers. Even though many of us constantly feel like we're exhausted and think that being drained is the new normal, we are overlooking the long-term problems caused by not getting enough sleep.
And one of our country's most problematic secrets is the vast number of Americans who are now addicted to some sort of sleep medication -- and in many cases, very addictive drugs like Klonopin and other Benzodiazepines, which can cause long-term memory issues.
Because I believe that this health crisis is not being given enough attention in the media and because there is a lot of great sleep research and new technologies being developed, I have decided to start a new company called "Sleep School." The mission of this new business will be to provide accessible, concise information and resources for the sleep deprived. We will be launching a website (www.sleepschool.me), a weekly curated e-newsletter as well as producing regular sleep-related seminars and conferences.
Our first conference, in December in New York, will include panel discussions on the public policy and safety issues related to sleep problems as well as panels discussing the latest cutting-edge research, new technology products, and new ideas to help the chronically sleepy. We'll also look at the latest sleep-related products like foam mattresses, special pillows and noise machines and sleep monitors, among others.
I recently was heartened to read that many new technology companies are putting nap rooms in the office to help exhausted workers. Research shows that a one-hour nap during the day can be extremely helpful not just for productivity and feeling better, but also for one's overall long-term health and safety.
It would be great if we could come up with an awareness campaign that educates Americans about the importance of consistent, restful, eight hour or more stretches of sleep each night.
In the meantime, Sleep School will do it's best to educate New Yorkers, who live in the mecca of sleep deprivation. We pride ourselves on living in "the city that never sleeps."
It's time to say good night to that harmful boast.
Tom Allon, the president of City & State, NY, is the co-founder of "Sleep School" (www.sleepschool.me). Questions or comments: email@example.com.