Are Americans feeling like they get enough sleep? Dream on, a new Gallup poll says

NEW YORK — If you’re feeling – YAWN – sleepy or tired while reading this and wishing you could close your eyes a little more, you’re not alone. According to a new poll, a majority of Americans say they would feel better if they could sleep more.

But in the US, the ethos of self-push and pull-up is pervasive, both in the country’s early days and in our current environment of always-on technology and work hours. And getting enough sleep can seem like a dream.

The Gallup poll, released Monday, found that 57% of Americans say they would feel better if they got more sleep, while only 42% say they get as much sleep as they need. That’s a first in Gallup polls since 2001; in 2013, when Americans were last asked, it was about the opposite: 56% said they were getting the sleep they needed and 43% said they were not.

Younger women in particular, under the age of 50, often reported that they do not get enough rest.

The poll also asked respondents to indicate how many hours of sleep they usually get per night: Only 26% said they got eight or more hours, which is about the amount sleep experts say is recommended for health and mental well-being. Just over half, 53%, reported getting six to seven hours. And 20% said they got five hours or less, up from the 14% who reported getting the least amount of sleep in 2013.

(And just to make you feel even more tired, in 1942, the vast majority of Americans slept more. About 59% said they slept eight or more hours, while 33% said they slept six to seven hours. What is that, anyway? )

The poll doesn’t delve into the reasons WHY Americans aren’t getting the sleep they need, and since Gallup last asked the question in 2013, there has been no data breaking down the specific impact of the past four years and the pandemic era.

But what’s striking, says Sarah Fioroni, a senior researcher at Gallup, is the shift over the past decade toward more Americans thinking they would benefit from more sleep, and especially the jump in the number of people who say they get five or fewer get hours.

“That category of five hours or less… was almost unheard of in 1942,” Fioroni said. “Hardly anyone says they slept five hours or less.”

In modern American life, there was also “a widespread belief that sleep was unnecessary—that it was this period of inactivity when little or nothing actually happened and that took up time that could have been put to better use,” according to Joseph Dzierzewski. vice president for research and scientific affairs at the National Sleep Foundation.

It’s only relatively recently that the importance of sleep for physical, mental and emotional health has begun to trickle down to the general population, he said.

And there is still a long way to go. For some Americans, like Justine Broughal, 31, a self-employed event planner with two small children, there simply aren’t enough hours in the day. So even though she recognizes the importance of sleep, it often takes a back seat to other priorities, like her four-month-old son, who still wakes up all night, or her three-year-old daughter.

“I really enjoy being able to spend time with (my children),” Broughal said. “Part of the benefit of being self-employed is that I get a more flexible schedule, but that certainly often comes at the expense of my own care.”

Then why are we awake all the time? A likely reason for Americans’ insomnia is cultural: a long-standing emphasis on diligence and productivity.

Some of the context is much older than the shift documented in the poll. It includes Protestants from European countries that colonized the country, said Claude Fischer, a professor of sociology at the University of California Berkeley’s graduate school. Their belief system included the idea that hard work and being rewarded with success was evidence of divine favor.

“It’s been a core part of American culture for centuries,” he said. “One could argue that…in its secularized form, it becomes merely a general principle over the centuries that the morally correct person is one who does not waste his time.”

Jennifer Sherman has seen that in action. In her research on rural American communities over the years, the Washington State University sociology professor says a common theme among the people she interviewed was the importance of a solid work ethic. This applied not only to paid work, but also to unpaid work, such as ensuring that the house was clean.

A throughline of American cultural mythology is the idea of ​​being “individually responsible for creating our own destiny,” she said. “And that suggests that if you waste too much of your time… you are responsible for your own failure.”

“The other side of the coin is a tremendous amount of contempt for people who are perceived as lazy,” she added.

Broughal says she thinks her generation can let go of some of those expectations as parents. “I prefer spending time with my children to keeping my house clean,” she said.

But with two little ones to care for, she says, making peace with a messier home doesn’t mean more time to rest: “We spend time with the family until, you know, (my three-year-old) goes to bed. at eight o’clock and then we’ll reset the house, right?’

While the poll shows only a broad shift over the past decade, living through the COVID-19 pandemic may have affected people’s sleep patterns. Also discussed in post-COVID life is “bedtime revenge procrastination,” where people put off going to sleep and instead scroll social media or watch a show as a way to cope with stress.

Liz Meshel is familiar with this. The 30-year-old American lives temporarily in Bulgaria on a research grant, but also works part-time at American hours to make ends meet.

On the nights when her work schedule stretches until 10 p.m., Meshel finds herself in a cycle of “revenge procrastination.” She wants some time to herself to decompress before going to sleep and ends up sacrificing hours of sleep to make it happen.

“That includes going to bed, where I say, ‘Well, I didn’t have time to myself during the day, and it’s 10 p.m. now, so I feel fine and justified watching X number of movies.'” episodes of TV, spending so much time on Instagram, as my way to decompress,” she said. “Which is obviously always going to make the problem worse.”


Sanders reported from Washington, DC