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Best Prescription? Tell Patients to Get More Sleep.

ATLANTA – One of the simplest prescriptions you can offer also might be the most effective. Physicians are being strongly urged to advise patients to get adequate shut-eye.

An article in the Morbidity & Mortality Weekly Report notes that a third of U.S. adults suffer from short sleep duration, defined as less than seven hours a night and associated with greater likelihoods of obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, frequent mental distress, and death.

Researchers from the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are urging physicians and other healthcare professionals to discuss the importance of healthy sleep duration with patients and address reasons for poor sleep health.

The problem is most acute in the southeastern United States and in states along the Appalachian Mountains, regions which also have the highest rates of obesity and other chronic conditions, according to the CDC. Conversely, those in the Great Plains states reported the most sleep.

Non-Hispanic black, American Indian/Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, and multiracial populations all report a lower prevalence of seven hours of sleep or more compared with the rest of the U.S. population, study authors point out.

Inadequate sleep not only has physical health effects, according to the report, it also can impair cognitive performance, increasing the likelihood of motor vehicle and other transportation accidents, industrial accidents, medical errors, and loss of work productivity.

Information on sleep duration was obtained from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) survey in 2014. Respondents were asked, “On average, how many hours of sleep do you get in a 24-hour period?” Among 444,306 respondents, 11.8% reported a sleep duration of five hours or less, 23.0% reported six hours, 29.5% reported seven hours, 27.7% reported eight hours, 4.4% reported nine hours, and 3.6% reported 10 hours or more. Overall, 65.2% reported the recommended healthy sleep duration, with respondents 65 or older most likely to be getting enough sleep, according to the results.

Interestingly, employed respondents had higher rates of getting enough sleep -- 64.9% -- than those who reported themselves as being unemployed or unable to work.

Researchers urge more sleep health education, reducing racial/ethnic and economic disparities, changes in work shift policies, and routine medical assessment of patients’ sleep concerns in healthcare systems.

“Based on recent recommendations for healthy sleep duration, these findings suggest that, although almost two-thirds of U.S. adults sleep ≥7 hours in a 24-hour period, an estimated 83.6 million U.S. adults sleep <7 hours,” the study authors concluded. “Therefore, clinicians might find routine discussion of sleep health with their patients as well as pursuit of explanations for poor sleep health an important component of providing health care.”

The CDC also notes that no professional sleep organizations have issued consensus statements or recommendations about the efficacy or safety of either over-the-counter or prescription sleep aids for improving sleep duration in the general adult population.