Sleep, Pray, Love: Survey Sheds Light on U.S. Bedtime Routine

March 8, 2010

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(Getty Images)
By Denise Mann

MONDAY, March 8, 2010 (Health.com) — Your racial and ethnic background can shape many aspects of your life: the type of food you eat, where you live, and your political views. Now, a new survey suggests that how you sleep and what you do before you hit the hay—whether it’s watch TV, pray, or have sex—varies by ethnic group as well.

In the survey, the first of its kind, a representative sample of more than 1,000 African Americans, Asians, Hispanics, and whites ages 25 to 60 were asked about their sleep and bedtime routines. While their answers revealed plenty of differences between groups, they also showed that we have something in common: Most of us aren’t sleeping well.

In each group, roughly 6 out of 10 people reported that they don’t get a good night’s sleep every night or almost every night, according to the survey, which was conducted by the National Sleep Foundation, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C.

“A significant proportion of all ethnic groups are experiencing sleepiness that impacts their day-to-day living,” says Thomas J. Balkin, PhD, chairman of the National Sleep Foundation. “Sleepiness impacts every aspect of our lives, so for those people who are not getting a good night’s sleep, getting better sleep will make you sharper in the boardroom, give you a better quality of life, and [make] the sun seem a whole lot brighter.”

Across the board, a lack of sleep appears to be affecting people’s lives and relationships. Roughly 1 in 4 people in each ethnic group said that they missed work or a family function because they were too sleepy, and a similar proportion said they were too exhausted to have sex on a regular basis.

The survey results offered a peek inside the bedrooms of Americans, and how we spend our time before drifting off.

For instance, 75% of African Americans reported watching television routinely in the hour before going to bed, compared to 64% of whites. Only 52% of Asians said they watched TV before bed almost every night, but they were far more likely to use a computer or surf the Web before bed; more than half said they did so almost every night, compared to about 20% in the other groups.

Sexual activity also varied among the groups. Ten percent of African Americans and Hispanics reported having sex almost every night, compared to 4% of whites and 1% of Asians.

African Americans, meanwhile, were far more likely than other groups to pray before bedtime almost every night of the week.

Who—or what—Americans sleep with also appears to vary by ethnicity. Nine out of ten whites who are married or “partnered” sleep with their significant others, a slightly higher rate than that among African Americans. But three-quarters and two-thirds of Hispanics and Asians, respectively, said that they don’t sleep with their partner. Those groups, however, were more likely to share a bedroom with their children.

“Asians tend to sleep with children in their beds and that could have an impact on sleep quality because anything that disrupts sleep like a dog or kid in the bed can negatively impact sleep and the restorative value of that sleep,” Balkin says. Whites were more likely than other ethnic groups to sleep with their pets, the poll showed.

Next page: People sleeping fewer than seven hours


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