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Only 15% of People Sleep the Recommended Amount

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Sleep – when we’re younger, we often can’t get enough of it. Like me, you may have fond memories of 11 am weekend lie-ins as a teenager, disturbed only by your parents insisting you leave the solace of your bedroom.

But as we age and gain more responsibilities, a good night’s sleep can be hard to come by.

A new study by Flinders University calculated just how challenging it is for adults to sleep the recommended seven to nine hours per night.

The researchers found that only 31% of people sleep seven to nine hours for five or more nights per week.

“This is crucial because regularly not sleeping enough – or possibly too much – are associated with ill effects and we are only just realising the consequences of irregular sleep,” said Dr. Hannah Scott, a research fellow in sleep psychology, and first author of the study.

The study is published in Sleep Health

Measuring sleep data from an under-mattress analyzer

Scott and colleagues collected data from individuals using a Withings Sleep Analyzer (WSA) across Europe and North America over a nine-month period. The WSA is a device that sits under the mattress and uses ballistography to record pressure changes that indicate body movements, heart rates, respiratory rates and time in and out of bed.

“Using proprietary algorithms, these estimations contribute to the derivation of sleep macrostructure and other sleep metrics beyond the scope of the present study,” the authors said. “Indeed, the WSA has been used in several recently published research studies to investigate sleep health questions that would not otherwise be possible without the use of non-invasive monitoring technology that allows for multi-night assessment of sleep,” the authors said.

Data was obtained from 67,254 participants (52,523 males and 14,731 females) using a WSA, aged between 18-90 years old, between July 2020 and March 2021.

31% people have sleep durations beyond the recommended range

A total of 31% of adults had average sleep durations outside of the recommended range.

Of the participants who were able to achieve an average of 7-9 hours per night across the nine-month period, roughly 40% of those nights fell outside of the ideal range.

Female participants slept longer than males, though it must be noted that the sample is largely male which might affect this figure.

Middle-aged participants slept for less time than young adults or elderly participants, though the researchers did not capture data on socio-economic status or work status.

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“Based on these findings, public health and advocacy efforts need to support the community and individuals to achieve more regular sleep within the recommended range for their age,” co-author Professor Danny Eckert, an Australian National Health and Medical Research Council leadership fellow and director of Sleep Health research at Flinders University, said.

Tips and tricks for a better night’s sleep

The date range analyzed coincided with the COVID-19 global pandemic, a limitation that the authors acknowledged as potentially affecting the study outcomes.

Regardless, the importance of healthy sleep patterns cannot be understated; reduced sleep has been linked to 7 of the 15 leading causes of death in the US, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cerebrovascular diseases, accidents and high blood pressure.

So, how can you get more Zzzs? The team behind the study suggests the following:

  • Short term – try and maintain a sleep schedule that helps you feel as rested as possible, as often as you can. Maintain a fixed wake-up time, even over the weekends, and go to sleep when you feel tired.

  • If you can’t keep a consistent sleep schedule, due to commitments, then try to catch up on sleep as much as you can.

  • Keep an eye out for signs of insufficient sleep, including drowsiness in the day, fatigue, difficulty maintaining concentration, issues with memory and making errors in tasks such as driving.

  • If you don’t feel as though you are sleeping enough, consider testing whether a longer sleep schedule, or taking naps, helps you sleep longer and helps you to feel better rested.

  • If you do not have a sleep disorder, adopting good sleep hygiene might be helpful. This could include avoiding caffeine and/ or alcohol in the afternoon or reducing caffeine and alcohol consumption throughout the day. It might also mean avoiding a particularly heavy meal close to your bedtime.  The researchers say that other people might not see much benefit from following sleep hygiene instructions, but it could be worth trying as a “simple fix”.

  • The Flinders team emphasize that you should consult your GP in the first instance if you are concerned about sleep.

This article is a rework of a press release issued by Flinders University. Material has been edited for length and content.

Reference: Scott H, Naik G, Lechat B, et al. Are we getting enough sleep? Frequent irregular sleep found in an analysis of over 11 million nights of objective in-home sleep data. Sleep Health. 2023. doi: 10.1016/j.sleh.2023.10.016