PHILADELPHIA — For all the research pointing to Americans struggling to get enough sleep, a new study finds that we may be — slowly, but surely — turning the corner…or in the case, the covers.
The reason why? More folks are opting to put down the electronics before bed and hit the sack sooner, and people aren’t as time-starved thanks to using the internet for running “errands” they might normally do outside the house.
Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Medicine turned to the American Time Use Survey, a questionnaire that followed the sleeping habits of 181,335 people aged 15 and older between 2003 and 2016. The results showed that most participants averaged an extra 7.5 hours of sleep each year — or about 17.3 minutes more sleep each night — for the duration of the study.
Interestingly, the positive results were seen in students, employed adults, and retirees who took part in the study, which is also the first to show that sleep duration actually improved for large portions of the population.
To break the progress down even further, the researchers calculated that sleep duration grew 1.4 minutes on the weekdays and 0.8 minutes on weekends per year.
Researchers say that the survey indicated that fewer respondents were participating in activities that might keep them up longer, namely reading or watching TV.
“This shows an increased willingness in parts of the population to give up pre-bed leisure activities to obtain more sleep,” says lead author Dr. Mathias Basner, in a university release. “Also, the data suggest that increasing opportunities to work, learn, bank, shop, and perform administrative tasks online and from home freed up extra time, and some of it was likely used to get more sleep.”
Could more awareness of the harmful effects of sleep deprivation be on the minds of Americans? The authors note that Google searches for “sleep” more than doubled during the study period, and that scientific reports on “short sleep” were published tenfold. It’s believed that the improved sleep duration times may very well be linked to the rise in interest on the subject.
“As researchers, increasing awareness of short sleep and its consequences remains a critically important task to improve public health,” says Basner. “At the same time, this data provides new hope that these efforts may be effective in motivating many Americans to sleep more.”
Still, the researchers say it would be prudent for researchers to see if they replicate the findings in future work and that more concrete research beyond questionnaires should be completed.
The study’s findings were published this month in the journal Sleep.