Americans are Trading Sleep for Work and Gridlock

For many people, the American dream means owning a big house with an even bigger yard and a couple of attractive cars in the driveway. But what sacrifices are we willing to make in order to realize these super-sized dreams? A new study finds that sleep may be one of them: working long hours and being stuck in traffic appears to be keeping many Americans from their sleep. The study was based on the results of a federal telephone time-use survey of more than 47,000 Americans conducted from 2003 to 2005. The results showed that the amount of time spent working is the most important factor in determining how much Americans sleep. Time spent traveling, including those frustrating hours in gridlock, comes in second place.

American Time Use Survey: Sleep Time and Its Relationship to Waking Activities
Mathias Basner, MD, MSc; Kenneth M. Fomberstein; Farid M. Razavi; Siobhan Banks,PhD; Jeffrey H. William; Roger R. Rosa, PhD; David F. Dinges, PhD

To gain some insight into how various behavioral (lifestyle) factors influence sleep duration, by investigation of the relationship of sleep time to waking activities using the American Time Use Survey (ATUS).

Methods: Cross-sectional data from ATUS, an annual telephone survey of a population sample of US citizens who are interviewed regarding how they spent their time during a 24-hour period between 04:00 on the previous day and 04:00 on the interview day.

Results: Adjusted multiple linear regression models showed that the largest reciprocal relationship to sleep was found for work time, followed by travel time, which included commute time. Only shorter than average sleepers (<7.5 h) spent more time socializing, relaxing, and engaging in leisure activities, while both short (<5.5 h) and long sleepers (≥8.5 h) watched more TV than the average sleeper. The extent to which sleep time was exchanged for waking activities was also shown to depend on age and gender. Sleep time was minimal while work time was maximal in the age group 45-54 yr, and sleep time increased both with lower and higher age.

Conclusions: Work time, travel time, and time for socializing, relaxing, and leisure are the primary activities reciprocally related to sleep time among Americans. These activities may be confounding the frequently observed association between short and long sleep on one hand and morbidity and mortality on the other hand and should be controlled for in future studies.

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