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Lessons From Napping Fan Flap: Are We Getting Enough Sleep?

It was the nap shared around the world. That’s what happened when television cameras caught a Yankees fan sleeping during a baseball game between the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox. The outcry and mockery flew out of the park like a grand slam.

But the subsequent ridicule, headlines and legal tangle may be missing the main point, says Jeremy Tabak, M.D. [1], medical director of Baptist Sleep Center at Galloway [2] and Baptist Hospital’s Sleep Diagnostic Center [3]

“People are too tired,” Dr. Tabak says. “More than two-thirds of the population is not getting enough sleep on a habitual basis.”

But the case of the napping fan took a legal turn after ESPN allegedly made sport of the snoozing spectator. The story — and other mockery — went viral on Twitter and other news outlets. Crying foul, the fan recently filed suit in New York State [4] Supreme Court against ESPN, the Yankees and Major League Baseball, according to the New York Times:

The fan, Andrew R. Rector, claimed in his suit that ESPN’s announcers, Dan Shulman and John Kruk, “unleashed an avalanche of disparaging words” about him, suggesting he was overweight and stupid. He also claims Major League Baseball was responsible for “vituperative utterances” about Mr. Rector on its website after the clip of him sleeping was posted the next day.

Dr. Tabak sees a different villain in the case of the napping fan. Due to the pressures of modern life, many of us are overworking and under-sleeping. A chronic lack of sleep can be contributed to the following causes, Dr. Tabak says:

  • Work hours: Some folks have two jobs, night shifts, a heavy load of overtime hours or work projects that keep cutting into vital sleeping patterns.
  • Homework and kids:  School-age children face an increasing burden of homework, and parents stay up to help out.
  • Modern conveniences: Armed with smartphones, laptops and tablets, we have more screen time and less pillow time [5].
  • Sleep disorders: A variety of sleep disorders [6], including sleep apnea, can secretly sabotage a good night’s rest.
  • “It’s a societal problem,” Dr. Tabak says. “And when we have moments to relax — at a baseball game or a movie theater — the sleepiness becomes manifest.” 

    And there’s an important health factor. Chronic lack of sleep is linked to a series of health problems, including obesity, diabetes and a higher risk of cardiovascular diseases.  What’s more, lack of sleep is linked to a long list of fatal industrial accident or traffic fatalities.

    “Sleep is not given the priority that it should have,” Dr. Tabak says. “Getting enough sleep — seven to eight hours nightly — is as important as your diet and exercise.”

    Stop bullying the sleeping Yankees fan, Dr. Tabak says. “Just get him to a sleep center.”

    Related stories:

    The Dark Side of Night Light [5]

    Help Your Child Reduce Stress [7]

    5 Health Risks of Sleep Deprivation [6]