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Is Sleeplessness Slowly Killing Us?

Most Americans are chronically tired. Half of Americans don’t get the recommended 8 hours of sleep, and 70 percent of teenagers don’t get the 9.25 hours they need.

But the lack of sleep is more than a nuisance. According to a new documentary by National Geographic, in collaboration with the National Institutes of Health and the Public Good Projects, our sleepiness is killing us.

The documentary blames lack of sleep for some cases of diabetes, mental illness, cancers and Alzheimers. Sleeplessness is also responsible for car crashes, medical accidents and lack of productivity when we are awake.

John Hoffman produced “Sleepless in America.” He joins Here & Now’s Robin Young to discuss the real dangers of not getting enough sleep.

Hoffman’s Tips for Getting More Sleep

  1. From the moment you wake up, Hoffman says, you’re building a need to sleep called sleep pressure. Thus, doctors have told him you should “stay in bed as little as possible,” and “get up at the same time every day no matter how little sleep you’ve gotten, no matter how physically active you might have been the day before.” If you always start your day at the same time, “your body gets used to how much sleep pressure has built,” Hoffman says.
  2. For those who wake up in the middle of the night, Hoffman recommends that you “get up out of bed, go into a dimly lit room, and do something boring — read a really bad piece of non-fiction, do a really hard crossword puzzle that you can’t possibly get through, and when you feel that need to sleep start building again, you start yawning a bit, go back to bed.”
  3. Don’t try to make up for missed weekday sleep on the weekends; “The damage is done,” Hoffman says.
  4. “I struggle with not getting 8 hours of sleep,” Hoffman admits. “The vast majority of us, meaning people who don’t have insomnia and people who are not working two or three jobs to pay the bills, that majority is choosing to not get adequate sleep. They’re binge-watching television, they’re doing social media, they are choosing those things and all that stimulation over sleep. You know what? Put the devices away. Turn all those blue light-emitting devices off one hour before sleep time. And choose a bedtime that’s one hour earlier.



  • John Hoffman, executive producer of “Sleepless in America.”

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

A new documentary, "Sleepless in America," investigates America's chronic sleep deprivation. (Ross Pollack/Flickr)
A new documentary, "Sleepless in America," investigates America's chronic sleep deprivation. (Ross Pollack/Flickr)