For Vanessa Cardenas, a 27-year-old living in Los Angeles, sleep is a daunting task. "I intentionally stay up all hours of the night," she tells Health.
"I definitely feel like I've lost control of my life when it comes to sleeping," says Cardenas, who works in IT and is an aspiring actress. "I should be in bed realistically by like 11 [p.m.], but I'm never in my bed by that time. I'm probably going to sleep at like 1 a.m. or 1:30, I'm waking up every two hours, I just don't sleep well."
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Unfortunately, she's not alone: About 25% of US adults report that they get insufficient sleep at least 15 out of every 30 days, as reported by the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.
This isn't necessarily a new problem for Cardenas, either. "I've been struggling with this for about five years now," she says—and she's noticed that her favorite way to relax isn't helping her situation. "[One] of the things that I've tried to do to shut my brain off is I'll just turn on the TV…when I get home at night it's my time to decompress, and watching TV does that for me," she says. But sometimes she can't peel herself away from binging once she starts: "I kind of just keep pressing next."
Turns out, this is a pretty common thing too: According to a 2019 survey from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, 88% of American adults reportedly lose sleep to binge-watching (aka, watching multiple episodes of a TV show). In people ages 18–44, that number rises to 95%.
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These lingering sleep issues are why Cardenas has decided to take on Health's 21-Day Challenge, focusing on sleep—specifically getting more of it. "In the next 21 days, I would like to improve just how many hours I'm sleeping on a daily basis," she says. Her goal? To be able to sleep for eight full hours. "If i can get to a place where I have a longer day because I'm not sleeping in and being able to enjoy things that I love and spending time with people I love, it would change my life."
Watch the video above to see how Cardenas fares on her journey. Though she has a rough start (she actually hit the snooze button six times on the first day), she eventually picks up some good bedtime habits, with the help of Thanuja Hamilton, MD, a double board-certified sleep medicine specialist, to help her get some more restful sleep. Her message to those also suffering to get adequate rest: "If you're struggling, trust me, you're not going through this alone. And if you need help, just ask."
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