Here’s the age when Americans get the least amount of sleep

·3 min read

Story at a glance

  • Medical College of Georgia (MCG) investigators used data from a nationally representative sample of 11,279 participants age 6 and older, each of whom wore a device on their non-dominant wrist that measured movement and gauged sleep.

  • The participants wore the device for 24 hours a day over a period of seven days, finding generally that nighttime sleep declines with increasing age.

  • Yet the study suggests Americans’ sleep efficiency — time one is actually asleep compared to time carved out for sleep — also declines with age but tends to stabilize from age 30 to 60.

Americans get the least amount asleep around age 40, researchers found in a new study.

Medical College of Georgia (MCG) investigators used data from a nationally representative sample of 11,279 participants aged 6 and older, each of whom wore a device on their non-dominant wrist that measured movement and gauged sleep. The participant data was gathered from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey released in 2020.

The participants wore the device for 24 hours a day over a period of seven days, finding generally that nighttime sleep declines with increasing age.

“We confirmed previous findings based on subjective measurement,” the study’s first author Shaoyong Su said in a news release. “People think children and adolescents sleep later and we found this. And, during middle-age people sleep less and our findings support that objectively.”

Yet the study suggests Americans’ sleep efficiency — time one is actually asleep compared to time carved out for sleep — also declines with age but tends to stabilize from age 30 to 60.

“Traditionally people think sleep efficiency goes straight down with age, but we did find there is a stable period, from ages 30 to 60 years old, that you have quite stable sleep efficiency,” said study author and genetic epidemiologist Xiaoling Wang.

The authors found that although female participants went to bed later and slept longer than their male peers, their sleep efficiency was similar.

Meanwhile, young adults around age 20 went to bed at the latest hour, and teens age 14 to 17 showed the greatest difference between sleep onset during the week and the weekend.

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The team stressed that sleep quality is a key contributor to an array of health issues, and poor sleep could serve as a warning sign for doctors.

“I think what these sleep parameters mean in terms of people’s health is that if you are a physician or other provider and patients come in with some kind of complaint about their sleep, you need to interpret what they tell you in light of their stage in life and what their likely sleep patterns are going to be,” said Vaughn McCall, chair of the MCG Department of Psychiatry and Health Behavior.

“I don’t look at our findings necessarily as a benchmark of perfect health,” McCall continued. “I look at this as a benchmark of what is happening in America.”

Authors note that a limitation of their study may result from primarily self-reported results from study participants.

Mayo Clinic recommends various healthy sleep periods depending on a person’s age. They advise children aged 6 to 12 sleep 9-12 hours in a 24-hour period, while suggesting 8 to 10 hours per 24 hours for adolescents ages 13 to 18. Adults, according to the clinic, need at least seven hours per night.

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