I was thinking about a career change the other day. Maybe I could get a job in sleep research. As a subject.

I could show up in my jammies, lie down in a comfy bed in a dark and quiet room and get to work. My annual review would praise my commitment to the enterprise: “Jerry always volunteers for overtime.”

As things stand now, however, I almost never put in my full eight hours between the sheets, and neither do a lot of other Americans, who are too busy working, playing and stressing out.

According to the National Sleep Foundation (hey, everything has a national foundation), not getting enough Z’s is a problem; you wouldn’t want to lose sleep over it, but it is a real concern.

Sleepy people can’t perform as well at work. Sleepy drivers are dangerous. Sleepy children can’t learn as well as alert ones.

My son was so concerned about his lack of sleep that he wrote about it for one of his classes, trying to make the case that middle school should start later in the day because the kids are too sleepy to pay attention.

It used to be only ambitious adults who lost sleep on both ends of the day, but more and more children are getting into patterns grown-ups are used to. My son gets up at 6 a.m. so that he can eat breakfast and still have time to catch his bus to school, and he often stays up late finishing homework assignments. Of course, if he weren’t so sleepy the homework wouldn’t take quite so long.

Parents have to decide which rules to enforce, weighing good grades against sleep. Then, when the children are at last asleep, moms and dads finally have free time to watch TV, play computer games, read, catch up on chores, anything but sleep because we just have to squeeze one more thing into the day.

And, always, tomorrow is the day we will catch up on sleep. There won’t be so much to do tomorrow.

And once you are an adult, there’s no one to make you go to bed. Most people don’t like going to bed. If you go to bed, you’ll just have to get up and go to work.

It really helps to have something to look forward to the next day. Kids who are zombies during the week bound out of bed on weekends.

Sleepiness might be good for coffee sales, but it is bad for just about everything else.

Tired drivers are responsible for at least 100,000 car crashes a year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

A study in South Carolina found that young drivers cause more than half of accidents in which a driver fell asleep. Teens need 9.5 hours of sleep a night, but they love to stay up late, and biology makes getting to bed – and getting up – harder for them.

Middle-age men have issues with snoring, women with menopausal sleeplessness, older people wake up before they’ve gotten all the sleep they need. Just about everyone is at risk for losing winks.

And it’s not just driving while asleep that’s a problem. You don’t want a sleepy pilot or a nodding pharmacist. A barber who’d stayed up the night before nicked my ear once. Imagine what a droopy surgeon might do.

This long presidential campaign worries me. Is whoever wins going to be fit to govern after eight months of sleep deprivation?

Let’s all of us get to bed on time tomorrow. No, make that get to bed on time tonight.

Jerry Large is a Seattle Times columnist.

Write to him at The Seattle Times, 1120 John Street, Seattle, WA 98109, or send e-mail to jlargeseattletimes.com. Include your phone number in your message.



Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.