Many of you may have seen the excellent article published by ESPN regarding the issue of Sleep Deprivation in the NBA. If you have not read it, here it is:

I’ve been involved in the area of Sleep Science for the past three years and I’m here to say that this isn’t a problem that is solely owned by the NBA. This is a problem that is owned by 50% of the US Population.  I will go a step further and state that this isn’t simply a “Problem”, it’s a raging epidemic.

Without a doubt, this is a difficult problem to solve in professional sports. I’ve witnessed the brutal travel schedules up close in both the NBA and Major League Baseball.  However, I’ll also say that this problem is far from being unsolvable. From personal experience, I’m here to say that there IS A SOLUTION TO THIS EPIDEMIC. The real question is, do we have the resolve to commit to good sleep? 

When it comes to Americans lack of sleep, let me share with you a few dirty little secrets that may interest you:

  • 50% of all Americans are Sleep Deprived (< 7 hours of Sleep)
  • 30% of All Americans are Chronically Sleep Deprived (<6 Hours of Sleep)
  • Car Accidents via Sleepy Drivers occur every 30 Seconds.  In fact, Car Accidents by drowsy drivers kill more people than those caused by Drugs & Alcohol combined.
  • A 2015 Harvard Study showed that the Average Worker loses the equivalent of 11 days of productivity each year due to sleep issues.
  •  Approximately, 30% of the population has moderate to severe sleep apnea. If untreated, this unfortunate group of people will cost their company approximately $3,500 in additional health related costs every year.  Put it like this, if your company has 450 employees, this issue alone will add $472,500 to your company health costs, if untreated. 
  • A Gallup Poll in 1942 showed that the Avg American slept 7.9 hours a night. In 2018, that number has spiraled downward to 6 hours a night.  

Let’s talk about what is happening to the U.S. population now that we have spiraled to only sleeping 6 hours per night. Here are a few more dirty little secrets about sleep 6 hours or less a night:

  • Your Testosterone levels drop to levels of someone 10 years older.
  • Your risk of cancer Increases by 70%.
  • Gene Distortion – 711 of your Genes will be distorted. Half of the 711 genes will be over expressed. These are genes that arerelated to the production of tumors, chronic inflammation, Stress or cardiovascular disease. The other half of the genes will be suppressed. These are genes that are related to immune activity. In general, the bad stuff is more active and the good stuff is much less effective.
  • You will Consume an additional 200-250 calories per day (15-120 lbs per year)
  • Emotional instability increases. A section of your brain called the Amygdala, which is the Emotional Epicenter, is 60% more active. This means that you will be much more prone to mood swings. On the other hand, the Prefrontal Cortex, the part of your brain that gives you the ability to “Apply the brakes” will be 70% less reactive. So, when you get less than 6 hours of sleep, not only are you are more emotional, but you now have a decreased ability to “Apply the Brakes” and stop yourself from being a complete idiot. 

When it comes to our health care system, watch out:

  • Residents working a 30 hour shift are 460% more likely to make a diagnostic error in an intensive care Unit vs those working a 16 hour shift.
  • The same resident, mentioned above, driving home has a 168% higher chance of getting into a car crash that will cause him/her to end up in the same hospital that he/she was just working in.
  • Elective Surgery – Surgeons with 6 hours or less of sleep will have a 170% increased risk of making a surgical error vs those getting 8 hours sleep.
  • In NeoNatal Intensive Care Units, when light levels were regulated to mimic daily light patterns, an infant’s Oxygen Saturation levels were significantly higher, Weight gains increased and stays were reduced by 5 weeks on average.
  • On average 50% – 70% of all ICU alarms are unnecessary…and these keep patients awake who desperately need sleep to heal. This points to the fact that hospital stays for all patients can be reduced if hospitals simply create an atmosphere where patients can sleep better. 

These are just a few of the statistics thanks to a book by Matthew Walker, PhD, Why We Sleep. I highly recommend reading it.  

To address this issue at our organization, we have implemented a voluntary Sleep Boot Camp for those who have sleep struggles similar to those that I experienced.  Our approach is simple. We take a four step “line of attack” which includes: 1) Sleep Apnea Screening, 2) Providing participants with a Sleep Health Kit which gives them a variety of tools to solve their particular sleep problem, 3) Provide educational materials that give participants specific strategies on how to improve their sleep, and 4) Provide each participant with a 30-day intensive sleep behavior change workshop called Sleep Well/Live Well. This isn’t as easy as it seems, but it has provided us a way to “Crack the Code” and move towards better sleep.

There is one thing I want to highlight, that may have been glossed over….and that is the impact of Sleep Apnea.  As noted above, screening for Sleep Apnea is our absolute 1st step in our Sleep Boot Camp. If someone has Sleep Apnea, then all bets are off that any of the tools or strategies we provide will help. The statistics are clear, whether you’re an athlete, a weekend warrior or a couch potato, over 30% of the population will have Sleep Apnea. If someone is diagnosed with Sleep Apnea, then the starting point is to seek treatment for that issue. We use an FDA approved app called Drowzle ( for our screening process. The app is extremely simple to use. It works by you activating the app to “Listen” to your breathing at night (2-3 nights) while you sleep. Drowzle then measures the number of sleep stoppages you’re experiencing. Drowzles Chief Medical Office then passes those results along to you…good or bad.  If you’re diagnosed with Sleep Apnea, please don’t assume that you’ve been sentenced to wear the Darth Vader Mask for life!  In a vast majority of cases, you may simply need to wear an oral appliance or loose a little weight. My point is, there are many options to the Darth Vader Mask. So don’t let that stop you from getting treated.

On a personal note, I’m living proof that you can also “Crack the Sleep Code”.  Over the last two years, my sleep has increased from 5.5 hours to 7.5 hours a night. My health has also dramatically improved. I’ve seen a noticeable improvement in my memory, focus, engagement and overall happiness. My coffee consumption has dropped by 2/3 and I don’t find myself yawning nonstop throughout the day.  My desire for snack foods has fallen off the map. (And I really loved Potato Chips!)  Within the first 9 months of being in “Sleep Rehab”, I lost over 22lbs, decreased my body fat by 4%, increased my muscle mass by 3%, lost 4 inches off of my waistline and needed a new source of income to afford clothes that fit!  However, the biggest improvement is that my wife, Joanne, has told me that I’m nicer. And if there is a single reason to sleep more, it should be the fact that you will like you better AND others will like you better as well. 

Let me finish by saying that this is a VERY solvable problem. It does not take a brain surgeon to fix sleep. However, it does require resolve to recognize the problem and embark on a systematic approach to address the problem. My question to you is, are you sick and tired of being exhausted?  If so, then know beyond a shadow of a doubt that this problem is solvable and dedicate yourself to action.

Stay Tuned….I’ll follow-up this article with some of the ways to get yourself back on track… Until then…Sleep Well….. 

Originally published on Linkedin.

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