Sleepless in America

Movie review by
Melissa Camacho, Common Sense Media
Sleepless in America Movie Poster Image
Sleep-deprivation docu informative; some tragic scenarios.
  • NR
  • 2015
  • 90 minutes

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Kids say

age 14+
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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Sleep deprivation is characterized as a very serious problem.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Scientists, medical professionals, safety professionals, and victims of fatigue-induced accidents offer their insights. 


Reenactments of people getting into arguments, discussions of fatigue-related fatalities, and video footage of people during car-accident impact (no blood). Scientific experiments are conducted on rats. 


Sexual dysfunction is briefly noted as a side effect of sleep deprivation.


Clothing logos such as Under Armour are occasionally visible but not prominently featured. 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

The impact on sleep deprivation of alcohol, cigarettes, and pharmaceutical sleep aids is discussed. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Sleepless in America is a documentary that features a lot of information about the physical, mental, and cognitive impact of sleep deprivation. It contains some disturbing footage of people in car crashes upon impact, discussions of accident fatalities, and images of scientific experiments being conducted on rats. The sexual side effects of sleeplessness are briefly discussed; the impact of alcohol, tobacco, and medications on one's ability to catch some z's also is highlighted. It's adult-oriented and a little dry at times, but older teens may find parts of it interesting.

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What's the story?

SLEEPLESS IN AMERICA explores and underscores the need for getting enough sleep in our daily lives. The documentary, which is produced in association with organizations such as the National Institutes of Health, offers scientific and medical explanations about how sleep deprivation can lead to major physiological problems, including obesity and pre-diabetes, and can make people more prone to illnesses such as heart disease, Alzheimer's, mental illnesses, and cancers. Additional experts from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) discuss how the cognitive impairments caused by sleeplessness can lead to fatal accidents, including the Exxon Valdez spill, the Staten Island Ferry crash, and other events that received national attention. The impact of lifestyle choices -- including following nonstop schedules, constantly being "plugged in" to media technology, and consuming alcohol, caffeine, and sleep aids -- on people's ability to sleep also is highlighted. Throughout it all, the efforts being made across the country to understand and combat the short- and long-term impacts of not getting enough quality rest are highlighted.

Is it any good?

There's certainly a lot to be learned here. In a country where 40 percent of adults and 70 percent of teenagers are sleep-deprived, this informative documentary demonstrates how sleep is no less important than water, nutritious food, and exercise for healthy human functioning. More importantly, it brings attention to the fact that, despite the critical role that sleep plays in our overall health and well-being, American society collectively fails to make it a priority. It also offers some interesting explanations about the impact modern inventions, ranging from the light bulb to the Internet, have historically had on human beings' willingness and ability to get adequate numbers of hours of undisturbed sleep to live better lives.

It succeeds at being educational and non-judgmental as it offers this information as well as some details about how to combat the effects of sleep deprivation and improve insomnia. However, given the major and frightening impact sleeplessness can have, one can't help feeling that more effort can and should be made to discuss how American society needs to reevaluate itself, its lifestyle, and the expectations placed on people to work endless hours to keep their jobs or make ends meet. The importance of being held accountable for engaging in certain activities while sleepy isn't emphasized enough, either.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the different ways that people can work on getting more sleep. How many hours do you and your family get a night? How does this effect what you do when you're awake? 

  • How does media technology impact how much we sleep? What are some of the ways we can manage the amount of media we use to live healthier lives? 

Movie details

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