As many as 70 million American suffer from sleep deprivation, regularly getting fewer hours of sleep than they need. It’s affecting their physical and mental health and possibly even shortening their lives.

“There is plenty of compelling evidence that sleep is the most important predictor of how long you will live-perhaps more important than whether you smoke, exercise or have high blood pressure or cholesterol levels,” says Stanford University psychiatry professor William Dement.

Millions of us are getting so little rest, we may be shortening out lives. Yet the average American is sleeping less-down from about 8.5 hours a night in 1960 to fewer than 7 today, reports The journal if the American Medical Association. Many people are in bed only 5 to 6 hours a night on a regular basis.

Longer hours at work-and longer commutes- are what threaten sleep most, according to a new study by the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. Moreover, once home, weary workers may unwisely choose TV or Internet surfing over a good night’s sleep.
Compromised sleep elevates stress hormones and impairs metabolism, which can lead to depression, obesity and life-threatening illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure, warns the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. A 2005 Survey by the National Sleep Foundation found that a third of couples have problems in their relationships because of a partner’s abnormal sleep (usually snoring). Nearly a forth say they flee to a different bed or room and they are just too sleepy for sex.

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