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Sleep-deprived Americans nap in some strange places, survey says

We're onto you, sneaky nappers.
We're onto you, sneaky nappers.

We nap in restaurants, at the movies, in doctors’ offices and even in church. David Wayne, a 50-year-old telecommunications manager from Seattle, says he’s even seen a coworker nod off in the middle of a customer call.

“We had a recognition program which included a ‘Way to go!’ note that you could fill out and give someone for going above and beyond,” he says. “I gave him one that said, ‘Way to go … to sleep.’”

But Wayne’s log-sawing coworker is hardly the first person to nap in an inappropriate place. According to a recent (if somewhat silly) survey by Tempur-Pedic, more than half of the 1,000 people surveyed admitted they’d accidentally fallen asleep in some strange spot, including 12 percent who ponied up to sleeping at their desk or computer at work and 11 percent who confessed they’d dozed off in church.

More disturbing, of course, were the 22 percent who admitted to falling asleep behind the wheel of their car -- sometimes while driving. Equally odd were the folks who admitted to catching a few Zzz's while on the bus (4 percent), in the bathroom (3 percent), during meetings (2 percent), at the kitchen table (2 percent) and the 12 percent of drowsy sorts who said they’d accidentally nodded off in “other” places, such as in the midst of military combat, in elevators, in court, and even in a graveyard.

Really, it's no wonder we collapse with exhaustion in such strange places. More than a third of American adults sleep fewer than seven hours each night, according to a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. So we cope with sleepiness by drinking caffeine and taking regular naps, says a National Sleep Foundation study.

But Dr. Joe Ojile, founder of the Clayton Sleep Institute in St. Louis (and representative of the National Sleep Foundation), says there’s a big difference between a planned nap and inadvertently falling asleep while sitting on the toilet.

“When someone is doing something active and they fall sleep, that suggests there’s a problem,” he says. “Whether it’s flat-out sleep deprivation or circadian rhythm misalignment – jet leg, for instance.”

Unplanned naps can also be brought on by certain types of therapy, such as chemotherapy, he says. Or they could be the result of certain medication (think pain meds or blood pressure medication). Someone who nods off in meetings, airports, movie theatres and while visiting friends might also want to be evaluated for an illness, like narcolepsy, he says; insomnia, however, is probably not behind any of these nutty napping spots.

“Insomniacs usually feel exhausted and fatigued but for whatever reason, they don’t tend to fall asleep in inappropriate places,” he says. “Their brain tends to be more aroused than other peoples’ brains.”

Ojile has a word of advice for you inappropriate nappers out there. “If you’re falling asleep at a concert or an elevator or while you’re driving or during sex, those are attention-getters for a doctor,” he says. “Those are issues that without question should be discussed with your physician. In the first place, it’s a health risk and danger for the person having the symptoms. But it’s also a public health risk for others if you’re operating a motor vehicle or a crane or bulldozer or something.”

We swear no (unplanned) napping occurred during the writing and editing of this piece. But what about you -- have you accidentally nodded off in a strange place lately?

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