It doesn't take a government study to tell many Americans what they already know: They're not getting enough sleep.
But the latest study from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -- which shows that 35 percent of U.S. adults don't get the recommended seven hours or more a night -- is the first to analyze trends in self-reported healthy sleep duration for all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
The researchers dug deeper to look at trends by state and other factors. And they found that married couples -- who might be expected to get less sleep, given issues like snoring, bed-sharing, and kids -- actually appear to be catching more zzz's on average than single sleepers.
Sixty-seven percent of married people reported getting seven hours of sleep a night -- the amount recommended by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society -- compared with 62 percent of those who were never married, and just 56 percent of people who were divorced, widowed, or separated.
Dr. Shalini Paruthi, co-director of the sleep center at St. Luke's Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri, and a spokesperson for the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, said it's not surprising to her that couples sleep better than people without sleep partners.
She said it might have to do with many factors, including the buddy system. Other research on everything from heart disease to cancer to diabetes, for example, has shown that having a partner may improve health outcomes. It may be the same when it comes to maintaining good sleep habits, Paruthi explained. Couples may help each other maintain a pre-bedtime, wind-down routine that helps them keep regular sleep hours.
A spouse or partner can help flag sleep troubles, too.
"We do think having another person there with you can help you be more aware if you have a sleep issue, and help you talk things out. If another person, a sleep partner, objectively recognizes my sleep health is poor, if I'm snoring, for instance, that may help me seek out treatment," Paruthi suggested.
Daytime encouragement may even reinforce better bedtime habits. "A bedtime partner may say, 'I noticed when you get better sleep you have better days.'"
The researchers reported that a healthy seven hours of sleep a night was lower among certain groups, including Native Hawaiians/Pacific Islanders (54 percent), non-Hispanic blacks (54 percent), multiracial non-Hispanics (54 percent) and American Indians/Alaska Natives (60 percent). Groups that did a little better when it comes to sleep were non-Hispanic whites (67 percent), Hispanics (66 percent), and Asians (63 percent).
When the data was parsed by state, people living in Hawaii scored lowest, logging fewer healthy sleep nights (56 percent) compared to 72 percent of people living in South Dakota.
States in the southeastern U.S. and the Appalachian region got fewer full nights of sleep than elsewhere, too, which the authors noted with interest because previous studies have shown that these regions also have the highest prevalence of obesity and other chronic conditions. Those conditions have, in other studies, been linked to poorer sleep.
Unemployed people had lower healthy sleep duration (60 percent) as did individuals unable to work (51 percent), while 65 percent of employed workers reported more seven-hour sleep nights.
The prevalence of healthy sleep duration was highest among people with a college degree or higher (72 percent), the CDC reported.
Paruthi said sleep deprivation is a big concern on many levels. Snoozing less than seven hours a night is linked with all manner of illnesses, from diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease to stroke, mental health issues, and obesity.
The authors said primary care physicians and other health professionals should routinely assess patients' sleep concerns and talk with them about healthy sleep habits, including:
- Setting a pattern of going to bed at the same time each night and rising at the same time each morning.
- Making sure that your bedroom is quiet, dark, relaxing, and not too hot or too cold.
- Turning off screens -- televisions, computers, mobile devices -- or keeping distracting or light-emitting electronic devices out of the bedroom.
- Avoiding large meals, nicotine, alcohol, and caffeine before bedtime.
Paruthi said she tells patients to use a bedtime alarm as well as a wake-up alarm. "At night, it's a physical reminder to you that it's time to wind down and close up what you're doing," she said.
Keeping a sleep journal for 10 days to track daily habits can also help poor sleepers get on track, alerting them to behaviors that may interfere with settling to bed on time or sleeping soundly, the authors of the study wrote.
What to do if a solid seven hours a night seems impossible? Work schedules and pressure, illness, parenting, caregiver duties, and other issues can interrupt normal sleeping hours, Paruthi said.
"Adults should get seven hours and kids need nine to 10 hours, sometimes more. But if you can't get that amount of sleep at night, it's still important to aim for that much in a 24-hour period. So, if you can only get five hours overnight, try to get another two hours during the day. That's what I would recommend for unusual circumstances," she said.