Tired woman in bed struggling to sleep

A woman tired in bed (Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels)

LONDON — Maybe that’s why they call it a mid-life crisis. Whether it’s from stress, job responsibilities, or childcare, a massive new study finds that people ages 33 to 53 sleep the least compared to those in early and late adulthood.

Researchers from the University of College London say their finding holds true in just about every part of the planet.

“Previous studies have found associations between age and sleep duration, but ours is the first large study to identify these three distinct phases across the life course,” says study co-author Hugo Spiers, a professor with UCL’s Psychology & Language Services, in a statement.. “We found that across the globe, people sleep less during mid-adulthood, but average sleep duration varies between regions and between countries.”

The study looked at data from 730,187 participants spanning over 63 countries. Scientists hoped to find how sleep patterns changed as one grew old, and how they varied across multiple countries. People were asked to play the Sea Hero Quest mobile game, a citizen science venture created for neuroscience research. The game is intentionally designed to help researchers understand the spatial navigational abilities of people with Alzheimer’s disease or at risk of it. Over four million people have played Sea Hero Quest, which has helped with data input for many studies, including this one.

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People completed tasks related to navigational ability and answered questions such as demographics and sleep patterns. Results show that people slept an average of 7.01 hours a night. Women, on average, slept 7.5 minutes longer than men. People in early adulthood—minimum being age 19—slept the most with time asleep decreasing until age 33. Sleep duration began increasing again around age 53, in late adulthood. While not looked at in the study, the researchers suggest people may lose sleep in mid-life because of the demands of childcare and work.

There were some differences in sleep patterns across countries. Those living in Eastern European countries such as Albania, Slovakia, Romania, and the Czech Republic slept an extra 20-40 minutes every night. People residing in South East Asian countries such as the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia spent the most time awake than asleep. Additionally, United Kingdom residents slept slightly less than average. Another interesting trend the scientists found was that people slept slightly less when living in countries closer to the equator.

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People’s navigational abilities were not impacted by how long they slept per night. The only exception is older adults between 54 and 70 who were at their best after seven hours of sleep. However, the authors caution this finding may be due to other health conditions among older adults.

The study is published in Nature Communications.

About Jocelyn Solis-Moreira

Jocelyn is a New York-based science journalist whose work has appeared in Discover Magazine, Health, and Live Science, among other publications. She holds a Master's of Science in Psychology with a concentration in behavioral neuroscience and a Bachelor's of Science in integrative neuroscience from Binghamton University. Jocelyn has reported on several medical and science topics ranging from coronavirus news to the latest findings in women's health.

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4 Comments

  1. TXGunner1 says:

    People 33-53 can’t spell sleep.

  2. DAVID says:

    well I am 60 and my mentally disabled brother stays with me. Im lucky, very lucky to get 2 hours of unbroken sleep a night. Been going on for over ten years. Where’s my study?

  3. jack says:

    where exactly are you getting these studies from? stolen data?

  4. K says:

    Sleap is not a word.