There are many things we do less of now than in the past, and sleeping is one of them. In fact, studies show that people sleep an average of 20-percent less today than they did a century ago. Then, nine hours of sleep a night was typical; today it is closer to seven and a half hours spent in bed, with considerably less spent actually sleeping. And it’s not just adults that are sleeping less. The National Sleep Foundation’s annual survey in 2004 found that children were also getting less sleep than they needed, including infants.
“A few reasons we are sleeping less include the invention of electric light, jobs becoming more urban in nature, and an increase in technology in the home,” explains Darius Zoroufy, M.D., medical director of the Lake Sammamish Sleep Center.
Technology is one of the most glaring reasons behind American’s lack of sleep. “A 2009 study reported that TV is the number one factor keeping adults awake,” says Dr. Zoroufy. Computers, iPods, and cell phones are similar culprits.
“Not only are these things taking up our time, but they are stimulating us mentally, making it difficult for us to shift gears and fall asleep.”
Swedish Pediatric Sleep Specialist, Preetam Bandla, M.D., agrees. “Light from screen media can activate the light-sensitive circadian cells in our brains that regulate when we are maximally alert and maximally sleepy,” he explains, “So our TVs and computer screens can keep us from wanting to sleep.”
Technology is not solely to blame for our lack of sleep, however. “The majority of sleep problems result from self imposed and externally imposed factors,” says Dr. Zoroufy. “There are simply too many opportunities and pressures to stay awake.”
The demands of work, school, family and social activities are causing people to become overscheduled and the first thing people give up is sleep. “The idea that we can sleep less and still function well is a misperception,” says Dr. Bandla.
So how much sleep do we need and what can we do to obtain it?