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Staying up to catch Rays could make for sluggish days

Gotta love the baseball playoffs. The drama. The excitement. The night after night of prying your eyelids open to watch that last pitch, dragging through the next day, wishing you could just take a nap.

Even on a regular basis, we are a sleep-deprived nation. About one in five Americans fails to get enough sleep.

And that's before baseball.

"Sleep deprivation is probably a little more acute in Tampa Bay right now," said Dr. Lee C. Kirkman, founder of the sleep lab at St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa.

It may be affecting kids as well as adults. Although nobody knows why they stayed home, an extra 1,000 Hillsborough County students were absent Monday, the day after the Rays beat the Red Sox to make the World Series, compared with the previous Monday. (Pinellas students apparently are a hardier bunch, with fewer out that day than the previous week.)

Chronic sleep deprivation can contribute to serious health problems, such as heart disease, diabetes and obesity. Studies have shown that people who are regularly sleep-deprived, such as shift workers, may even have shorter lives, said Dr. Daniel Schwartz, medical director of the sleep center at University Community Hospital.

Fortunately, a little baseball shouldn't kill you.

But that doesn't mean you'll be feeling your best, either.

"Heavy eyelids, sleepiness … that feeling of not feeling sharp, not being able to perform at their best," Kirkman said.

Other symptoms include irritability, lack of concentration, lack of coordination, slower reaction times, forgetfulness, and impaired judgment.

So if you've got something important to do the day after one of the Rays' games, you might think twice about staying up.

"You might want to make sure your neurosurgeon went to bed and TiVoed the game," Schwartz said.

If you've gotta see the Rays win, doctors stress that you should remember the biggest danger from short-term sleep loss: drowsy driving.

"The things that people do the worst in are monotonous, routine activities," Kirkman said. "Driving fits that."

What's more, sleep deprivation magnifies the effect of alcohol.

"Two beers in a sleep-deprived patient is 10 beers in a nonsleep-deprived patient," Schwartz said.

With the World Series coming up, you might want to think about which games to watch, Schwartz said. Bad feelings will mount the more sleep you miss.

"If you stay up three nights in a row, and you only get four hours of sleep each night, you're going to be severely impaired at the end," Schwartz said.

He and Kirkman offered tips for getting by on less sleep. Before the game, take a nap. After the game, don't party all night. Even five hours of sleep will decrease symptoms of sleep loss. And the next day, caffeine can help you feel more alert.

But sooner or later, there's only one cure:

Zzzzzzzzzz.

Lisa Greene can be reached at greene@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3322.

Staying up to catch Rays could make for sluggish days 10/21/08 [Last modified: Thursday, October 23, 2008 6:18pm]

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