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Americans are sleeping less. This podcaster wants to help change that

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Sleep patterns for Americans have gone downhill pretty quickly over the past decade. A Gallup survey found that more than half of Americans - 57% - say they would benefit from more sleep, which is a big jump over 10 years ago. One in five people sleep fewer than five hours a day, and that is setting off the wrong kind of alarms, as NPR's Yuki Noguchi reports.

YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: Growing up, Katie Krimitsos sometimes fret about grades and upcoming sports games.

KATIE KRIMITSOS: I would be wide awake - just my brain completely spinning in chaos until 2 in the morning.

NOGUCHI: In adulthood, too, sleeping wasn't easy, like when she started a podcasting company in Tampa or nursed her newborn eight years ago. But in recent years, mounting worries chased sleep away more often.

KRIMITSOS: A million gazillion details.

NOGUCHI: Details like...

KRIMITSOS: When do I need to schedule a dentist appointment? What are we having for dinner tonight? Is the laundry folded? Are the pets taken care of?

NOGUCHI: Her mental checklist never shrank.

KRIMITSOS: What's going on with our financials and our future retirement program?

NOGUCHI: It poked and prodded her into constant alertness.

KRIMITSOS: So I feel like there are these enormous boulders that we are carrying on our shoulders that we walk into the bedroom with, and that's what we're laying down with.

NOGUCHI: By we, Krimitsos means the many other women she talks to or worked with who complain of fatigue. Women are one of the most sleep-troubled demographics, according to Gallup senior researcher Sarah Fioroni.

SARAH FIORONI: When you look in particular at adult women under the age of 50, that's the group where we're seeing the most steep movement in terms of their rate of sleeping less or feeling less satisfied with their sleep and also their rate of stress.

NOGUCHI: Overall, she says, sleep is at an all-time low in terms of both quantity and quality.

FIORONI: Back in 1942, 59% of Americans said that they slept eight hours or more. And now, today, only 26% of Americans today are getting eight hours or more.

NOGUCHI: Faced with her own sleeplessness, Tampa mom Katie Krimitsos started a podcast called "Sleep Meditation For Women."

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "SLEEP MEDITATION FOR WOMEN")

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Maybe you're feeling anxious. Whatever it is, you can't sleep.

NOGUCHI: It averages a million listeners a month and is one of 20 podcasts that make up Krimitsos' firm, Women's Meditation Network.

KRIMITSOS: Seven of those 20 podcasts are dedicated to sleep in some way, and they make up for 50% of my listenership. So, yeah, it's the biggest pain point.

NOGUCHI: Krimitsos says she thinks women bear the burdens from a pace of life that keeps accelerating.

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

NOGUCHI: Gina Marie Mathew is a postdoctorate sleep researcher at Stony Brook Medicine in New York.

GINA MARIE MATHEW: If you have poor sleep, then it's all things bad.

NOGUCHI: She says sleep suffers for a variety of reasons. Smartphones, for example, keep us - and especially teenagers - up later. And no one person can change a culture that discourages sleep.

MATHEW: In terms of structural and policy change, we need to recognize that a lot of these systems that are in place are not conducive to women in particular not getting enough sleep or not getting the sleep that they need.

NOGUCHI: She says things like paid family leave and flexible work hours might help women sleep more and better. Katie Krimitsos she started getting more sleep when she cut back on activities and commitments, both for herself and her two kids.

KRIMITSOS: I feel more satisfied at the end of the day. I feel more fulfilled. And I feel more willing to allow things that are not complete to let go.

NOGUCHI: Yuki Noguchi, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF J. COLE SONG, "FORBIDDEN FRUIT") 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.

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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