From Our 2008 Archives

Are You Suffering From Olympic Exhaustion?

Sure, the Olympics Are Exciting, but Is All the Late-Night TV Watching Running You Ragged?

By Denise Mann
WebMD Medical News

Reviewed By Louise Chang, MD

Aug. 15, 2008 -- U.S. Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps may have no problem breaking two world records within an hour. But the rest of us watching him are exhausted.

There's no shortage of live drama at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, and it's keeping record numbers of us up until the wee hours of the night.

That's leaving lots of us with our own version of Olympic exhaustion.

With one week down and one to go, WebMD sat down with sleep expert Michael J. Breus, PhD, a clinical psychologist in Scottsdale, Ariz., and the author of Beauty Sleep to find out more about this phenomena and learn how we can catch up on our ZZZs without sacrificing our passion for the games.

Are many Americans pulling Olympic all-nighters?

"Yes. This is something that we see happen after major sporting events -- such as the Super Bowl, World Series, and National Basketball Association (NBA) playoffs -- that can extend into the wee hours of the night. I am willing to bet that the same phenomenon will occur during the November elections. These events are in real time, so obviously people on the West coast have fewer problems the next day than do people who live on the East coast. I wouldn't be surprised if half the viewers were more exhausted than the athletes doing the races."

How do we get so hooked that we are willing to sacrifice sleep?

"Most people are like, 'I can stay up later and watch the Olympics for one night,' and they do and get into it, so it becomes a pattern and after three or four nights, they are exhausted. The good news is that the Olympics are time-limited. The games began on Aug. 8 and end on Aug. 24.

If a viewer loses an hour or two of sleep each night for the duration of the Olympics, can this have a negative effect on his or her health?

"Absolutely. The Washington, D.C.-based National Sleep Foundation says that for every 1.7 hours of sleep we lose a night, we have lower overall productivity and alertness the following day. Maybe you can make it after just one night, but this becomes a big deal after two or three nights. Keep in mind that Americans sleep an average of 6.9 hours per night, so if you knock off 1.5 hours, very few of us can function on 5.4 hours of sleep per night. I don't want to be driving next to you on the highway if you have lost that much sleep."

So what is a diehard Olympic fan to do?

Recording the games and watching them the following day is certainly an option. If you are sleep deprived and made it to work, think about taking a nap during your lunch hour. There is nothing wrong with catching up on sleep during the day with a 20- to 30-minute power nap, provided you do not have insomnia. At work, if you are zoned out, have some caffeine. If you are too tired to drive, carpool or take a cab to and from work. If you know you will be up late watching television, get yourself ready for bed by putting on your pajamas, washing your face, brushing your teeth ahead of time because all these tasks add extra time that you have to tack on to the end of the day's events.

Anything that a diehard viewer shouldn't do?

Drinking coffee late at night to stay up and watch the Olympics is bad idea.

SOURCES: Michael J. Breus, PhD, clinical psychologist, Scottsdale, Ariz.; author, Beauty Sleep.

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