Global Sleep Habits

A new study in the Journal of Neuroscience shows that sleep may help protect against brain damage, particularly against the effects of multiple sclerosis (MS) and other neurodegenerative diseases. 

But, as you no doubt know, not every night is filled with eight hours of restful slumber. In fact, if you live in the United States or Japan, there’s a good chance you’re getting less sleep than everyone else.

In the study, the National Sleep Foundation surveyed the sleep habits of people between the ages of 25 and 55 in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K., Germany, and Japan. The survey found that Americans and Japanese get 30 to 40 fewer minutes of sleep on workdays than their peers in other countries.

Sleeping on the Job

Two-thirds of Japanese people get less than seven hours of sleep after a hard day’s work, which is why many Japanese workers engage in the cultural tradition of inemuri, or napping on the job. Historically, it's meant to show how exhausted a person is from working so hard.

On-the-job naps can offer many benefits to workers. Researchers at NASA found that naps longer than two hours help with working memory, the kind that allows a person to focus on one task while keeping others in the back of his or her mind. It’s an important brain function, especially if you’re tasked with docking at a space station miles above Earth.

One in five Americans—for whom napping on the job is usually banned—report sleeping less than six hours a night during the workweek, significantly less than their Canadian neighbors.

How the World Sleeps

While workers worldwide often feel fatigued because of missed Zs, there are in fact many cultural differences that affect how we sleep.

“Sleep is deeply inter-connected with health and performance, but it is often overlooked by researchers,” sleep expert Jan Born, professor of behavioral neuroscience at the University of Tübingen in Germany, said. “This poll shows intriguing cultural variations on how we tackle this nightly, biological ritual.”

Interesting facts from National Sleep Foundation survey include:

  • One quarter of sleepers in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. report rarely or never getting a good night’s sleep during the work week, while 11 percent of people in the U.K. say they never get a decent night’s rest, twice as many as in any other country.
  • Sixty-two percent of Mexicans and 47 percent of Americans meditate or pray in the hour before going to sleep, while at least two-thirds of all people surveyed watch TV during that time.
  • One-third of people in the U.K. report sleeping naked. That’s interesting to note because the world’s largest sleepover was held March 8, 2008, in Kent, U.K. (The 1,626 participants wore their pajamas.)

A large majority—between 78 and 92 percent—of Mexicans, Germans, Americans, and Brits agree they’re able to relax and sleep more easily if their bedrooms have a fresh, pleasant scent. As many as 80 percent of people go out of their way to make sure their rooms have a relaxing smell before laying down to rest.

“Having a pleasant scent and a relaxing bedroom routine can contribute to a good night's sleep. No matter what your nationality, you will spend about a third of your life in bed,” National Sleep Foundation CEO David Cloud said. “Fresh air and a pleasant scent are great ways to improve your sleep experience.”

How Much Sleep Do You Really Need?

There’s been considerable debate about how much sleep a person needs every night. While eight hours is considered the norm, it’s not the right amount for everyone.

For instance, the young and the elderly often need more than eight hours per night. According to the National Sleep Foundation, school-aged children need at least 10 hours a night, while adults need between seven and nine hours.

That’s assuming those hours are restful and not fraught with tossing, turning, and other interruptions. If you think you may be suffering from insomnia or sleep apnea, talk to your doctor about treatments so you can get back to sawing Zs.

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