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Americans Are Getting A Lot More Sleep Than We Think

Source | FastCompany : By LAURA VANDERKAM

It is common wisdom that between long work hours, 24/7 connectivity, and household responsibilities, Americans are increasingly sleep deprived. One 2013Gallup Poll found that only 29% of Americans said they got eight hours of sleep (just 5% said they got nine hours or more), leading to an average sleep of 6.8 hours per day. Figures like this have led to the U.S.’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) declaring that “insufficient sleep is a public health problem.”

Yet according to a new survey that had thousands of Americans report how they spent the previous day (rolling over the entire year), this impression is false. Not only does the average American sleep well over eight hours per day, sleep totals have been increasing in recent years.


Every year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics undertakes the American Time Use Survey (ATUS) to find out how many hours the average American devotes to sleep, work, housework, childcare, leisure, and other activities. Unlike most surveys, the ATUS does not ask about any specific category of time (e.g. “How many hours do you work?”). Researchers ask people to say what they did next, going through a 24-hour period.

This difference in methodology matters. “There is a social desirability element with sleep,” says Stephanie Denton, an economist with the BLS. “If you frame a sleep question in the context of a job survey, people actually tend to report less sleep, because it’s seen as more socially desirable to report that you’re sleeping less.”

Researchers with the ATUS also do not ask about “typical” days, because this can introduce bias. “There’s some research indicating that people think about times when they were not getting a lot of sleep because those stick out most,” says Denton. Negative events are generally more memorable than positive ones. The ATUS asks about the previous day, which might be atypical for any one person, but averaged over thousands of people, should even out. Since the survey also covers how people spend weekends, and looks at an entire 24-hour day (and hence would include any naps), the results give a more holistic picture of time.

The BLS released the results from its 2015 survey on June 24. Researchers found that the average American slept 8.83 hours per day (men slept 8.77; women slept 8.90). This came out to 8.59 hours on weekdays, and 9.40 hours on weekends.

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