Sleep is amazing. Whether you're a fan of snoring in the afternoons, sleeping in 'til noon or catching forty winks after a night of partying, snoozing is a supremely satisfying human experience. And after years of indications that Americans were getting increasingly sleep deprived, a new study published in Sleep indicates that the U.S. is now sleeping more than before — and that has great implications for health, stress levels, and general well-being.
From the years 2006 to 2013, 181,335 Americans were asked about their daily 24-hour habits using something called the American Time Use Survey (ATUS). The researchers behind the study at Penn then examined how much of that time was spent sleeping, how early to bed and early to rise the participants were, and what the trends for snoozing were over time. And from 2006 onwards, the amount of time people spent in bed asleep, at least as far as they admitted to the study, increased gradually year by year, by 1.4 minutes every year on weekdays and .083 of a minute on weekends. This seems like a slender margin, but it adds up over time; in a press release, the researchers explain that this meant over the 14-year period people were getting 17.3 more minutes of sleep per night. As anybody who's hit the snooze button repeatedly will attest, that margin can mean a lot.
Looking in-depth at the numbers gives an interesting picture. People in education over 15, people who were employed and those who were retired saw an upward tick, but the amount of sleep deprivation remained the same in the unemployed and those "not in the labor force," like stay-at-home parents. This, the researchers noted, indicates that it's likely that the sleep balance in households is skewed, and that's concerning to women. Stay-at-home parents in the U.S. are most likely to be female, and while the amount of women who are breadwinners is increasing steadily — a 2016 study showed that 64.4 percent of American moms contribute to household income — women are still expected to take on greater shares of domestic duties than men in households, according to a 2017 study. Women who work may be sleeping more, but the gains in rest and relaxation aren't being felt by stay-at-home mothers.
However, other aspects of the study show that the factors increasing sleep for people in general are helpful for women. According to the researchers, the big gains in sleep were mostly down to going to bed earlier, and could partially be explained by "increasing online opportunities to work, learn, bank, shop, and perform administrative tasks from home", which means more time for slumber. 3.1 percent of American workers now work from home, and 52 percent of remote workers are female, according to data from 2017. For those people, sleep levels may be helped by the newly flexible working world.
Awareness of the problems caused by low sleep is also on the rise, the researchers said; they tracked Google searches on the topics of sleep and "short sleep", and found that they'd spiked 10-fold in the 14 years of the study, as people seemed increasingly curious about how sleep deprivation might be harming their health. Sleep deprivation studies have shown a whole host of negative consequences for the body and the brain; if you're not getting enough ZZZs, fatigue can reduce the efficiency of various parts of your brain, the strain can hurt blood pressure and raises stress hormones, your gut microbes can react poorly and cause digestive issues, and your chances of developing anxiety rise. People may be sleeping more partially because they're more aware of the costs of staying up and avoiding shut-eye — or because they've made the connection between too little sleep and feeling completely awful.
The overall message here is good: Americans seem to be sticking to their beds and reaping the health benefits. But the researchers point out that the findings are based on self-reporting, and people might be pretending to sleep more than they actually are to seem more virtuous (nobody wants to admit they stayed up till 3 a.m. watching old Destiny's Child videos on YouTube). If the trend is right, though, it's an excellent sign. Do your body and your country a favor: sleep more today.