You are here

9 Things You Should Know About Americans' Sleep Habits

May 10, 2014
Carolyn Gregoire

We were recently excited to discover New York radio station WNYC's Clock Your Sleep Project, a large-scale community data experiment that surveyed over 4,637 individuals from around the country during the month of April to determine the state of our sleep habits.

Using a fitness tracker, WNYC's app, or the Clock Your Sleep website, the Sleep Project participants (who represented a number of different cities and states, but were overwhelmingly New Yorkers) kept track of when they went to sleep each night and what time they woke up, as well as other details of their sleep-related behavior, like whether they kept electronics in the bedroom, how much caffeine they consumed, and how well they remembered their dreams. The goal? To sleep an hour more each night by the end of the challenge.

The experiment offers a fascinating glimpse into the nocturnal lives of Americans—and provides valuable insight on how any of us can improve our own sleep habits.

1. We tend to log around seven hours a night.

Sleep clockers logged an average of 7 hours, 5 minutes, and 43 seconds of Zzz's per night in the first week, according to WNYC's data. By the fourth week, sleep time rose to 7 hours, 11 minutes and 23 seconds, marking a gain of nearly six minutes over the course of a month. It may not seem like much, but that kind of progress can have a cumulative effect.

2. We love to sleep in on the weekends.

Sleep Project participants logged in an average of 28 full minutes more sleep on Friday and Saturday nights (7 hours, 29 minutes) than they did on the weekdays (when average sleep time was 7 hours and 1 minute). While participants woke up at an average of 7:01 a.m. on weekdays, the average weekend wakeup time was 8 a.m.

3. Women sleep differently than men do.

Women—who outnumbered men participating in the Sleep Project 2-to-1—made the greatest sleep gains over the course of the four weeks. During week one, women slept an average of 7 hours and 6 minutes, and by week four, had worked up to 7 hours and 14 minutes, gaining a total of 7 minutes and 14 seconds over the course of the month.

Male participants, on the other hand, slept a few minutes less than women each week, according to a WNYC press release, losing more sleep in weeks two and three, and then gaining back the time for week four.

4. It's early to bed and early to risefor couples.

Your bedmate may have an effect on how early (or late) you're hitting the sack. Sleep Project participants who shared a bed with their partner went to sleep and woke up around 45 minutes earlier than participants who slept alone or with a pet.

5. Dreamers sleep more.

Sleep Clockers who reported remembering their dreams often slept better than those who almost never remember—clocking a full 28 minutes more per night the overall average.

6. Your smartphone could be messing with your sleep.

In a WNYC poll of 2,600 Sleep Project participants, the majority of sleepers (23 percent) woke up through an alarm on their phone, while 14 percent woke up to an old-fashioned alarm clock, and 11 percent woke up naturally. The majority of respondents also said that they slept with their smartphone beside their bed.

This bedtime technology use could be taking a toll on the quality of our shuteye: A recent UK study found that as many as six in 10 Brits may be sleep deprived due to using smartphones and computers before bed, the Telegraph reported.

7. Relaxing songs can help us sleep.

A Soundcheck survey of Sleep Project participants asked the sleepers about their favorite mellow tunes to doze off to, and used their answers to create the ultimate, 160-song "Most Relaxing Playlist Ever," which features artists including Radiohead, Iron & Wine and Miles Davis.

It could really work—a 2008 study found that relaxing classical music can improve sleep quality among students, acting as an effective intervention for sleep problems.

8. Sleep shifts with age.

Younger people go to bed later and sleep later—clocking in up to half an hour more sleep on average than their older counterparts—while middle-aged sleepers (ages 45 to 64) are in bed earlier and tend to wake up before 7 a.m. Young people, on the other hand, wake up around 8 a.m. on average.

9. Tracking your sleep can encourage you to sleep more.

“The mere act of tracking certain behaviors (e.g. food intake, exercise, alcohol intake) has been consistently shown to make positive changes in behaviors once the tracker really starts to pay attention to what they're doing,” Dr. Shelby Harris, an adviser to the project and a specialist in behavioral sleep medicine, said in a statement.

Read More