Americans Get Too Little Sleep And Everyone Has an ExcuseMay 31, 2007; Page D1 Lindee Reed-Paris knows she needs more than the six hours of sleep she gets most nights. She survives the week by telling herself, "I'll catch up on the weekend." But when the weekend comes, the added sleep "never happens," the Chicago marketing consultant says. Seizing the chance to watch television or movies past midnight, she tells herself, "It's my party and I'll stay up all night if I want to." Americans say they yearn for more sleep. But when it comes to actually getting it, we're a nation in denial. Given a choice between an extra hour of sleep and an hour of free time, 43% of working people claim they'd take the sleep, says a Yankelovich Inc. poll. Yet the trend in sleep time is downward: Only 26% of adults get eight hours a night, compared with 38% in 2001, says the National Sleep Foundation, Washington, D.C. Some sleep loss arises from sleep disorders or other medical problems. But a major factor, experts say, is that we kid ourselves about sleep -- delaying sleep time, making excuses and blaming the consequences on everything from viruses to unrequited love. "It's amazing how people rationalize" their lack of sleep, says William Dement, chief of Stanford University's sleep division. Some examples: "I'll sleep when the kids are older." Ilya Welfeld, Bergenfield, N.J., a working mother of three small children, gets only three to six hours of daily sleep. She's up often at night to feed her infant; runs her own business from home; and also squeezes in exercise sessions. She regards more sleep as "a luxury" she'd rather not think about now; "when the kids are older, I'll sleep again." "I'll rest when I'm dead." Cheri Coleman, Humble, Texas, decided as she neared 50 "to make up for lost time. It's not too late" to revive lost dreams, she says. So she got her MBA and took two jobs she loves, leaving her just five to six hours to sleep. Overriding her fatigue, says Ms. Coleman, now 56, is a midlife sense of urgency about "when the last day is going to come." "I'm not sleepy." Michael Millar, a Wilmette, Ill., writer, says he does fine on five to six hours of sleep; "there's so much other stuff I like to do." He rises at 5 a.m. for some quiet pre-dawn writing time, puts in a full day at work, then gets "a natural boost" from his wife and two kids in the evening. He also does house-remodeling projects on the side, using coffee or Diet Coke for a lift as needed. In fact, Dr. Dement says, many sleep-deprived people ward off sleepiness by working, exercising or using caffeine. But they still pay a price. Mr. Millar acknowledges that he doesn't retain information as well as he'd like late in the day, and sometimes dozes off in slow moments. "I'll catch up on the weekend." This excuse often falls short in practice. A person who needs seven hours of sleep but gets only five for two nights accumulates a four-hour "sleep debt"; to repay it, he must sleep an additional four hours, says Helene Emsellem, an author and director of a Chevy Chase, Md., sleep clinic. Most people, however, won't sleep enough on weekends to repay their entire debt. Most people need seven to nine hours of sleep, Dr. Emsellem says; you may not be getting enough if you can't get through the day without yawning or hitting the wall. Kathy Helmetag tackled her sleep-loss problem after realizing it was making her gain weight; she was snacking to boost her energy, she says. Now, the Troy, Mich., working mother books sleep time in advance, scheduling shorter days to offset those she knows will be sleep-deprived. For years, working mother Sarah Teslik kept going on five hours of sleep. She was so exhausted that the mere sight of a pile of dirty laundry one night caused her to burst into tears, she says. She solved the problem by streamlining her to-do list, trimming dinners to fruit and yogurt, answering e-mail in elevators and cabs, and treating "dust balls and clutter as sculpture to be admired" at home. The result: Two more hours of sleep -- and the courage to face the laundry.