WASHINGTON (Dec. 2, 2014) -- The Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington, D.C., hosted a gathering of the nation's leading experts on sleep on Nov. 13 to discuss sleep and its impact on health. The occasion was an advance showing of "Sleepless in America," a National Geographic documentary that premiered on Nov. 30.

A panel discussion that followed included Lt. Gen. Patricia Horoho, surgeon general of the Army, and emphasized the medical consequences of lack of sleep. A discussion of our attitudes about getting adequate sleep "is one of those conversations that is long overdue but is getting the national attention it needs," Horoho said.

The medical consequences of lack of sleep are significant. People have a higher probability of cancer without adequate sleep. The rate of diabetes is higher among the sleep deprived. One risk factor for obesity can be reduced by getting more snooze time. Not enough shuteye may promote such diseases as Alzheimer's. Concerned about immune systems? It's weakened if people are not getting enough zzzz's. A full forty winks can help to reduce cardiovascular disease.

Better sleep reduces the risk factors for these health consequences and other negative health outcomes.

Other more immediate dangers of being sleep deprived are well documented. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, at least 1,500 deaths and 71,000 injuries occur as a result of driver fatigue occur each year.

The economic consequences of lack of sleep are high as well. Drowsy driving, for example, causes more than 300,000 accidents on our highways each year, at an estimated cost of more than $30 million. The cost of insomnia in work productivity is estimated to be more than $63 billion.

For the military, lack of sleep is a factor that affects readiness and leader's capability. The culture of the military has been one of the contributors to the belief of many that they can function effectively without proper sleep. For years, the military viewed sleep as the enemy and as an individual weakness. That has changed as leaders recognize that being sleep deprived impacts judgment and decision making.

Horoho pointed out, "If you're getting less than six hours of sleep, you're cognitively impaired."

Because a healthy and ready Army is a priority, Army Medicine has become a national leader, partnering with National Institutes of Health, National Sleep Foundation, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, and other organizations to help change the culture of how we view sleep.

This statistic is sobering: 40 percent of adults and 70 percent of adolescents are sleep deprived.

The importance of sleep is gaining a new focus nationwide, and proper sleep is becoming recognized as a critical component of good health, including brain health.

"Sleep is what protects our brain and that allows us to perform at peak performance in any type of mission, and it allows us to have the emotional hardiness when dealing with stressors that are out there," Horoho said.

The panel discussion included Francis Collins, director, National Institutes of Health; Horoho; John Hoffman, documentary director and producer; Mark Rosekind, National Transportation Safety Board, Timothy Morgenthaler, president, American Academy of Sleep Medicine; and Charles Czeisler, chairman, National Sleep Foundation.

"Sleepless in America" premiered on the National Geographic channel, Nov. 30, 2014.