A Staggering Number Of Americans Say They Don't Get Enough Sleep

11/26/2014 08:15 am ET | Updated Nov 26, 2014
  • Sarah Klein Senior Editor, Health & Fitness; Certified Personal Trainer
mactrunk via Getty Images

More than half of Americans say they need at least eight hours of sleep to feel at their best -- but nearly three quarters say they never get that much.

In a new survey from the National Geographic Channel, 73 percent of 1,033 Americans ages 18 and over said they sleep less than eight hours each night, despite the fact that 54 percent said they need at least eight to feel well-rested, according to data provided by National Geographic to The Huffington Post.

"Chances are you didn't sleep enough last night," executive producer and director John Hoffman said in a statement. "Lack of sleep is a surprisingly serious public health issue, and it's essential to enlighten the public before the problem becomes unmanageable."

The "surprisingly serious" effects of skimping on sleep include a vast range of problems beyond drowsy driving and lost productivity. Consistently getting less than the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep a night can lead to an increased risk of stroke, diabetes, obesity and even earlier death.

"[I]f we can prioritize sleep, we might stave off some of those very, very dangerous diseases," Hoffman said in a recent appearance on HuffPost Live to discuss the upcoming documentary.

While stress in general causes difficulty sleeping for 54 percent of the survey respondents, the holiday season proves especially difficult for logging enough shut-eye. Nearly 80 percent of people said the end-of-year festivities cut into their sleep, whether it's because of financial stressors, lengthy shopping lists or even just seasonal excitement.

Another contributing factor may be our constantly plugged-in society. Seventy percent of respondents said watching TV factors into their bedtime routine, while 37 percent said the same of social media. But sleep experts warn that the light omitted from those screens not only sends signals to our brain to stay awake and alert but also tampers with production of the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin.

Luckily, there's a simple fix. About an hour or so before bedtime, give yourself an electronic curfew. Power down your light-omitting devices and try a more relaxing routine instead, like some light reading, gentle yoga or quiet meditation.

Listening to music may also help. A 2005 study found that 45 minutes of gentle tunes before bed led to a 35 percent improvement in sleep troubles among older adults. And it doesn't have to be Brahms, if that's not your style. Any song around 60 to 80 beats per minute played at a low volume can bring about physical changes known to ease you off to dreamland, like a slower heart rate, the BBC reported.

In that vein, survey respondents were asked which famous singer they would rather have soothe them with a lullaby. Perhaps unsurprisingly, 18 to 29 year olds voted for Taylor Swift, while older age groups named Celine Dion, Elton John, Barry White and Barbra Streisand.

For more on sleep -- and lack thereof -- tune in Sunday, Nov. 30, at 8 p.m. ET to watch National Geographic's "Sleepless in America".

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