Yearning for a few zzzzz’s is no small thing


Jonathan Miano / Staff Photographer
Sun Publications 2009-02-09
Susan_Carlman_01 Jonathan Miano / Staff Photographer Sun Publications 2009-02-09

Every day, it turns out, is special.

We’ve talked before, you and I, about how pretty much every month, week and day brings an official observance of some kind, and how goofy those things are sometimes. I hope you didn’t miss your chance Thursday to commemorate National Chili Day or National Kahlua Day — though I sincerely also hope you didn’t observe both simultaneously. Friday is National Chocolate Souffle Day, so take some comfort there. And for planning purposes, you’ll want to bear in mind that March is both Irish-American Heritage Month (you know what to do) and National Women’s History Month (which, in the interest of brevity, I’m thinking of petitioning Congress to rename Herstory Month).

But the coming week just might put you to sleep. I surely hope so.

The DuPage County Health Department is marking National Sleep Awareness Week (that’s March 2-9 to you and me) by reminding people why it’s so important to get enough rest. It goes way beyond searching high and low for the car keys, only to finally find them in the freezer. Next to the TV remote. It can be far more serious than that.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says drowsy drivers cause 100,000 crashes every year that result in some 1,550 fatalities. The National Sleep Foundation folds in close calls — a whole lot of us have had those at some point — and puts the annual toll much higher, around 1.9 million incidents.

Of course, those of us who have the near-crash experiences are the lucky ones. Among this year’s casualties is the tollway worker who died Jan. 27, and the state trooper who was badly injured, in an accident on Interstate 88 that police allege was caused by a truck driver who had gone too long without sleep.

As ready as we all are for the longer stretch of daylight that can only mean spring just possibly could get here someday, next weekend we’ll need to be especially on our guard.

“According to the National Sleep Foundation, Americans freely admit that they drive when they are sleepy, and with the upcoming time change on March 9, more Americans are apt to be sleep deprived due to one less hour of sleep that night,” the Health Department cautioned in a press release this week.

The agency, which rightly notes that “driving drowsy can be as dangerous as driving drunk,” says it’s time to pull over as soon as you notice any of these things happening:

Difficulty focusing, frequent blinking and/or heavy eyelids

Difficulty keeping daydreams at bay

Trouble keeping your head up

Drifting from your lane, swerving or tailgating

Inability to clearly remember the last few miles driven

Missing exits or traffic signs

Yawning repeatedly

Feeling restless, irritable or aggressive

Yikes! I don’t know about you, but there’s an uncomfortable ring of familiarity to at least one or two of the things on that list.

But take heart, fellow midnight wanderers. We’re not alone. Not even close. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has declared insufficient sleep a “public health epidemic,” and puts the number of estimated sufferers at 50 million to 70 million Americans.

That kind of makes me want to call somebody when I’m staring down the ceiling at 3 a.m. But please, let’s not make plans to hit the road right then.

Better to allow me simply to wish you sweet dreams, people.