“About one-third of adults have a daily lack of sleep,” he noted. “And it is very common in Western countries,” especially in urban areas.
The main drivers? Leger pointed to night work, shift work, long commutes between the workplace and home, and excessive attachment to technology, such as smartphones.
Adam Krause, a Ph.D. candidate in cognitive neuroscience with the Center for Human Sleep Science at the University of California, Berkeley, agreed that chronic sleep deprivation is a widespread public health issue.
“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates around 35% of Americans sleep less than seven hours per night. And the amount of sleep has steadily decreased over the past decades, though it may be leveling off currently,” Krause said.
“Sleep loss is a potent form of whole-body stress,” Krause added. “So, it impacts function at every level of the body, from DNA, to cells, to organs, to performance at work or exercise.”
But other than by simply getting enough regular sleep, he cautioned that it’s a problem with no simple remedy.
“Daytime naps are often a great solution for those who don’t get enough sleep at night. But for those with true insomnia, naps can often make matters worse by reducing the pressure to sleep at night,” Krause explained.
“In general, consistency is key,” he added. “I think of this like a healthy diet. It’s better to eat healthy for two days a week than not at all, but eating healthy two days a week does not reverse the damage caused by eating poorly for the remaining five days. The best sleep diet is one that is sufficient and consistent.”
That thought was seconded by Dr. Nathaniel Watson, a professor of neurology at the University of Washington Medicine Sleep Center in Seattle, and immediate past president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.
“It is all about priorities. There are unlimited things to do with our time. We have to choose healthy sleep. It won’t just happen,” Watson said.