Sleep Habits Revealed in New Survey

A survey of more than 1,000 Americans, divided into four ethnic groups, showed people are pretty busy during the one hour before going to bed. LiveScience graphic

African-Americans and Hispanics are 10 times more likely to report having sex about every night than Asians, who seem to get the best sleep, according to a new poll by the National Sleep Foundation.

The poll, which included telephone interviews with more than 1,000 Americans, who identified themselves as Black, White, Asian or Hispanic, is said to be the first to compare snoozing between these four ethnic groups. But research on sleep in general had suggested there might be differences.

"There's enough research out there to suggest there may be ethnic differences in sleep disorders, such as insomnia and sleep apnea, differences in the amount and quality of sleep, and the health consequences of sleep disorders," said study researcher Kenneth Lichstein, director of the Sleep Research Project and professor at the University of Alabama.

All groups reported getting an average of between six and seven hours of sleep a night on workdays or weekdays. The Mayo Clinic recommends adults and seniors get between seven and eight hours of shut-eye a night.

Adequate amounts of sleep can boost your immune system, and too little can lead to drowsiness, difficulty concentrating, poor physical performance, and other effects, according to the Mayo Clinic.

"It surprised me that about 75 percent in all groups believed sleep was related to health and daily functioning," Lichstein said. "This signals to me a tremendous awareness among healthcare providers and patients about health and sleep."

Overall, between 19 and 24 percent of participants reported missing work or family functions because they were too sleepy. And more than 20 percent of married people or co-habiting couples, regardless of ethnic group, said they frequently were too tired for sex.

The findings were released today by the National Sleep Foundation, a non-profit organization funded in part by pharmaceutical and non-pharmaceutical companies.

Pre-bed routines

That hour before bedtime can be a flurry of activity, or non-activity. The poll found participants from all ethnic groups most commonly said they watched the boob tube every night or almost every night before hitting the sack.

  • Compared with other ethnic groups, Blacks were more likely to pray or complete another religious activity before bed, with about 70 percent reporting so – more than twice as likely as Whites and Asians.
  • More than 50 percent of Asians reported being on a computer or the Internet every night or almost every night an hour before bed. That's more than twice as likely as the other ethnic groups.
  • More than 40 percent of Hispanics reported completing household chores every night or almost every night during that pre-bedtime hour, while just over 30 percent of Blacks, 25 percent of Whites and 24 percent of Asians indicated such domestic duties.
  • Asians were the least likely ethnic group to have consumed alcohol within one hour of bedtime every night or almost every night.
  • Ten percent of both Blacks and Hispanics reported having sex every night or almost every night in the one hour before they went to bed, compared with 4 percent of Whites and 1 percent of Asians.

"What also stood out to me was how busy people are in the hour before going to sleep. I've never seen data like this before. They're working; they're watching TV; they're on their computers; they're praying; they're busy with sexual activity," Lichstein told LiveScience. "That's usually something sleep specialists would recommend against. That hour before sleep should be a quiet time, a time to wind down."

Who gets the best sleep?

More than 80 percent of Asians said they had a good night's sleep at least a few nights or more a week. About 70 percent of Hispanics, 68 percent of Whites, and 66 percent of Blacks reported the same.

Overall, Blacks reported the least amount of sleep on average on workdays or weekdays, just six hours and 14 minutes, compared with six hours and 52 minutes for Whites, six hours and 48 minutes for Asians, and 6 hours and 34 minutes for Hispanics.

Regarding sleep problems, 14 percent of Blacks were diagnosed with sleep apnea, compared with 8 percent of Hispanics, 6 percent of Whites, and 4 percent of Asians. "The high rate of diagnosis of sleep apnea in African-Americans was a surprise," Lichstein said, adding that the sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts is a serious one.

Ten percent of Whites said they suffered from insomnia compared with 7 percent of Hispanics, 4 percent of Asians, and 3 percent of Blacks.

But whether or not people are having more sleep problems now than in the past is anybody's guess.

"In terms of the rate of sleep problems, it's just as likely to be change in sleep problems as it is a change in data collection methods," Lichstein said, explaining that data collection on sleep is much better now, and so might turn up more problems.

What's keeping us up?

Hispanics were more likely than others to report being kept awake by financial, employment, personal relationship and/or health-related concerns.

Nearly 20 percent of Hispanics and Blacks say their sleep is disturbed every night or almost every night by at least one of these concerns.

"So many people are suffering because of economic uncertainty," said Martica Hall, an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh. "If you find yourself lying awake worrying, write a note to yourself to work on these issues the next day so you can dismiss those ideas at bed time."

Hall added, "Consider using relaxation techniques and focus on calming activities and thoughts. If your problems persist, you may want to seek out a sleep professional."

For those who don't get a good night's snooze, here are some more sleep tips.

Jeanna Bryner
Live Science Editor-in-Chief

Jeanna served as editor-in-chief of Live Science. Previously, she was an assistant editor at Scholastic's Science World magazine. Jeanna has an English degree from Salisbury University, a master's degree in biogeochemistry and environmental sciences from the University of Maryland, and a graduate science journalism degree from New York University. She has worked as a biologist in Florida, where she monitored wetlands and did field surveys for endangered species. She also received an ocean sciences journalism fellowship from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.