By Steven Reinberg
TUESDAY, Jan. 23, 2018 (HealthDay News) -- Are bleary-eyed Americans getting a break at last?
New research suggests that people are sleeping a few more minutes each night than they used to.
"Over 14 years [2003 to 2016], Americans were getting 17 minutes more sleep every night, or a full four days more sleep per year," said study lead researcher Dr. Mathias Basner. He's associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania's division of sleep and chronobiology.
Basner's team credit the trend to more awareness of the importance of sleep. Better awareness has led to better sleep habits -- going to bed earlier and not reading or watching TV or using smartphones or other devices in bed.
However, despite these modest gains, a third of Americans are still sleep-deprived, which can have serious consequences for their health, Basner said.
Studies have shown that people who are sleep-deprived are more likely to be obese and have high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and declines in mental function. In addition, Basner said, daytime sleepiness can lead to serious accidents.
To be in their best health, adults should sleep seven or more hours a night on a regular basis, Basner said.
For a good night's sleep, he suggested going to bed and getting up at regular times. In addition, keep the bedroom dark, quiet, cool and free of distractions, such as TV, books, smartphones and computers.
"Basically, when you enter the bedroom it should be a signal to your body that it's time to sleep," Basner said. "Your bedroom is for sleeping and sex, nothing else."
The report stems from a survey of more than 181,000 Americans, 15 and older, who took part in the American Time Use Survey between 2003 and 2016. It found that most people increased their sleep by nearly eight hours each year over the 14 years of the study.
Specifically, Basner and his colleague David Dinges, a professor and chief of Penn's division of sleep and chronobiology, found that daily sleep increased by 1.4 minutes on weekdays and 0.8 minutes on weekends each year.
Though this might not seem like a lot of progress, Basner said that over the 14 years, it works out to more than 17 minutes more sleep each night -- more than four full days more sleep each year.
The increase in sleep was mostly due to people turning in earlier at night and, to a lesser degree, getting up later in the morning, Basner said.
The exception to those getting more sleep are the unemployed, whose stress may be eating into their sleep time, he said.
However, Basner said that people also are more aware of the importance of sleep. To prove the point, he said that Google searches for sleep have more than doubled, and scientific papers about the consequences of getting too little sleep have increased more than 10 times from 2003 to 2016.
Still, that doesn't prove that awareness has translated into more sleep, Basner said. It does, however, give hope that campaigns like the 2013 National Healthy Sleep Awareness Project that encourage healthy sleep may be working, he said.
Sleep is different for every person, however, said Dr. Rajkumar Dasgupta, a spokesman for the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and an assistant professor of clinical medicine at the University of Southern California's Keck School of Medicine.
But if you're having trouble getting and staying asleep, treatment is available, said Dasgupta, who wasn't involved with the study. Cognitive behavioral therapy, for instance, can help you build good sleep habits, he said. In addition, you could have undiagnosed but treatable medical conditions, such as sleep apnea, that eat into your nightly rest, he said.
"Sleep is individualized and complex -- not everyone needs seven or eight hours of sleep every night," Dasgupta said. "The key is how you function during the day."
The report was published online recently in the journal Sleep.