What is causing Americans’ sleep problems?
Many Americans don’t get the quality sleep they need, even when they spend enough time in bed, according to a new WebMD survey of 2,000 people.
More than 7 out of 10 respondents (73%) rated their sleep as “good” or “very good” in the previous month. And 63% spent at least 7 hours in bed every night. (According to experts, most adults need 7-9 hours of sleep each night.)
At the same time, just over a third of the respondents (36%) said that they really did slept for at least 7 hours. On average, they snoozed just 5.7 hours per night—far short of the amount needed for optimal health.
It might not seem like a big deal to miss a few hours of shut-eye. But sleeping less than 7 hours a night is linked to a higher risk of the following conditions:
- Heart disease
- Mood disorders
According to some estimates, sleep-related problems cost Americans about $16 billion in medical bills each year.
“The effects of poor sleep are wide-ranging,” says Marri Horvat, MD, of the Cleveland Clinic Sleep Disorders Center. “Depending on the reason [it] it can affect many organs, from the skin to the heart and brain.” It’s also linked to the risk of early death, he says.
WebMD’s survey used a nationally representative sample of adults, meaning the group was similar to the US population in terms of age, gender, race and geographic location.
How well do Americans sleep?
The survey found that people have trouble both falling asleep and staying asleep. They spent an average of 7.61 hours in bed, so they spent an average of almost 2 hours awake after going to bed.
Here are some reasons why:
Time to sleep. According to doctors, most adults without sleep problems should fall asleep about 20 minutes after hitting the pillow. However, in a WebMD survey, 43% of people said it takes them more than 30 minutes to fall asleep after going to bed. Only 23% fall asleep in 20 minutes or less. The average time people fell asleep was 29.8 minutes.
Night awakening. Only 10% of respondents said they had never woken up in the middle of the night in the 30 days prior to the survey, and 16% said it had happened for more than 20 nights.
- People woke up almost nine times a month during the night.
- They woke up early and couldn’t go back to sleep for 7.3 nights.
But why can those who slept too little report that they were well rested? That’s probably because people define sleep quality differently, Horvat says.
“Some people feel that sleep duration improves or worsens sleep quality, others feel it’s the ability to sleep, while others determine whether they’ve slept well by their daytime symptoms,” he says.
What causes sleep problems?
The reasons why we don’t get enough sleep range from the minor, like a barking dog, to the serious, like sleep apnea.
Sleep disorders. Many people in the survey reported being diagnosed with one or more sleep disorders:
- 17% had insomnia
- 14% had obstructive sleep apnea
- 13% had restless leg syndrome
- 8% had narcolepsy or hypersomnia (excessive daytime sleepiness)
These conditions are treatable, so see your doctor if any of them affect your sleep quality.
Obesity. According to doctors, this health condition can also affect sleep. (However, poor quality sleep can lead to weight gain.) About 15% of people in the WebMD study said they had been diagnosed with obesity, defined as having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more.
Other medical conditions. Some of the study participants were diagnosed with other mental or physical conditions that affect sleep:
- 27% have an anxiety disorder
- 27% are depressed
- 16% have a persistent condition that causes physical pain
- 14% have gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD
- 11% have an itchy condition, such as psoriasis or eczema
Getting up to pee. According to those taking part in the survey, this disturbed their sleep the most in the previous month. One third of them (33%) indicated this as the main reason for interrupted sleep.
Waking up to pee at night (your doctor may call this nocturia) is more common in older people, although it can affect anyone. It can be caused by many things, including:
- An enlarged prostate
- Urinary tract infections
- Drinking too much liquid at night, or drinking alcohol or caffeine after dinner
If this prevents you from getting enough sleep, tell your doctor.
Other sleep disorders. Some of the other things that survey participants cited as the top causes of poor sleep quality include:
- Emotional or mental distress, such as sadness or worry, mentioned by 24%
- Feeling too hot, including hot flashes or night sweats, even when the room is cool, 16%
- Physical pain, 16%
- Being bothered by someone else, such as a bedmate, child or pet, 16% (not including snoring, which was cited by 5%)
- Environmental problems such as noise, light or temperature, 13%
- Bad or violent dreams, 10%
Sleep schedule. While 71% of respondents said they usually go to bed late at night, between 9:01 p.m. and 5 a.m., nearly a third (29%) go to bed in the morning, afternoon, or early evening. Experts say night shift workers and others who sleep during the day tend to sleep less than those with more traditional bedtimes. This is partly due to the disruption of the body’s internal clock, and partly to the fact that it is simply harder to sleep during the day.
“A poor sleep environment due to loud noises and other environmental factors can lead to unrefreshing sleep,” says Camilo Andrés Ruiz, DO, medical director of Choice Physicians in South Florida.
We don’t prefer sleep. While the WebMD survey does not Many Americans choose to focus on work, family or school demands that make it difficult to get enough sleep, experts say.
According to Ruiz, “young adults tend to reduce their sleep time due to work hours or lifestyle habits.”
That may be at least in part because many people don’t realize how important sleep is to our health and our lives, says Ruiz. “There is an unmet public health need [for] sleep education,” he says.
How does poor quality sleep affect you?
According to Ruiz, not only does poor sleep quality increase your risk of physical health problems, but it can also lead to memory and thinking problems and affect your quality of life. On a more immediate level, the loss of sleep time can lead to problems with work performance, cognition and alertness,” he says.
Many of the participants in the WebMD study reported that a lack of enthusiasm or motivation (common side effects of sleep disorders) made it difficult to complete their daily tasks an average of 5.6 days a month. During the 30 days before the survey:
- According to 29% of them, this happened to them within 1-3 days
- 27% said it happened within 4-7 days
- 23% said it affected them for more than 8 days
Survey participants also said they stayed awake an average of four times during the month while eating, socializing or driving at night.
With so much at stake, it’s important to make sleep a priority in your life. Follow these proposals [DS1] for good sleep hygiene. See your doctor if your sleep problems last longer than a month or if they interfere with your daily life.