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Stop Worrying About How Little You Sleep

Everyone knows that sleep is important. As BNET blogger Margaret Heffernan pointed out recently, a lack of sleep makes people as stupid as if they were drunk. We have strict corporate drinking policies, but not strict corporate sleeping policies. Why not?

Well, one reason might be that most Americans are getting enough sleep.

Every year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics conducts something called the American Time Use Survey, in which researchers talk thousands of Americans through specific days, seeing when they woke up, showered, drove to work, ate, and so forth. It's a lot harder to lie about how many hours you work or sleep with such a methodology than if someone merely asks you how many hours you work or sleep. And it turns out that, when you average all these days, we're spending a lot of time snoozing: 8.67 hours per day, according to this chart (men sleep 8.62, women sleep 8.73).

Of course, an overall average for adults includes college students and retirees. What about those of us with jobs and young kids?

It turns out we sleep a lot too. According to the American Time Use Survey's more in-depth findings:

  • Working fathers with kids under age 6 sleep 8.2 hours per day.
  • Working moms with pre-school aged kids sleep 8.35.
  • Working dads and moms with school-aged kids (6-17 years old) get 8.22 and 8.46 hours, respectively.

So why are these numbers so different from the perception, and from what we tell pollsters on other surveys? For starters, I think we tend to remember the bad nights as "typical” even if they aren't. We discount the extra sleep we get on weekends. There's also no guarantee that sleeping 8 hours means those hours featured a high sleep quality. But I find these numbers reassuring. Sure, some people are chronically sleep-deprived, but Americans who are combining work and parenting are, in general, not sacrificing sleep to do so.

What about you? How many hours do you sleep on weekends and weekdays?


Photo courtesy flickr user, Temari 09
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