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Americans are sleeping less because they're also more stressed, poll shows

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Here's something that may be totally unsurprising to many of us - Americans are sleeping less because they're also more stressed. A Gallup poll found 57% of Americans say they would benefit from getting more sleep and stress levels are up. And a fifth of Americans are sleeping fewer than five hours a night. This documents a big change since the last time this survey was done a decade ago. NPR's Yuki Noguchi joins me to discuss her reporting. Yuki, a majority of Americans now are not sleeping enough. Is that true across the board?

YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: It is, and it's true across all demographics - you know, men, women, old, young. And it's been a downward march toward less and less sleep since the 1940s. But in the past decade, women under the age of 50 saw very steep declines, and now just over a quarter of those women today say they're getting enough sleep.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. Why is that?

NOGUCHI: Well, you know, the big underlying question of why this is happening generally and for those groups of people specifically is something the survey didn't really get into, although they did correlate sleeplessness with stress. But pick a woman, any woman, and especially if she's a mom like Katie Krimitsos, she might say something like this.

KATIE KRIMITSOS: There are a million, gazillion invisible details that we are managing. When we go to bed at night, it is very unlikely that all of those things have been laid to rest, you know, bow-tied and all put away and so nice.

NOGUCHI: Krimitsos says, you know, she feels like modern life just keeps accelerating, and she's having to pedal faster.

KRIMITSOS: The speed of our lives has significantly increased. Our interpretation of how fast life should be and what we should, quote-unquote, "accomplish" or have or do has exponentially increased.

NOGUCHI: You know, her own sleep problems inspired her to start a podcast called "Sleep Meditation For Women." And Krimitsos runs a network of podcasts, and the ones addressing sleep, she says, are especially successful.

MARTÍNEZ: OK, so when she talks about the speed of life, to me, it sounds like she's talking about technology, because I got to imagine, Yuki, the smartphone is probably the worst kind of sleep night light.

NOGUCHI: Exactly. Exactly, yeah. Sleep declines coincide with the prevalence of smartphones. And sleep researcher Gina Marie Mathew is concerned, especially for teenagers. She's a postdoctorate researcher at Stony Brook Medicine in New York. And she says smartphones keep our minds occupied or preoccupied with more things later.

GINA MARIE MATHEW: Nowadays, among teenagers, it's 91% who have a smartphone, and probably among adults, it's closer to 100%. There is definitely a link between using more screen-based media and having poor sleep.

NOGUCHI: But she says overall, you know, we have this cultural problem when it comes to sleep, and she says we just don't value sleep enough. We don't have enough social supports in place that would give people - and especially young women - the ability to rest and relax.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. If you can, Yuki, can get some sleep. That's NPR's Yuki Noguchi.

NOGUCHI: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Yuki Noguchi is a correspondent on the Science Desk based out of NPR's headquarters in Washington, D.C. She started covering consumer health in the midst of the pandemic, reporting on everything from vaccination and racial inequities in access to health, to cancer care, obesity and mental health.

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