New data reveals sleeping patterns around the world

June 03, 2016


A recent study published in Science Advances revealing the sleeping patterns of people in over 100 countries around the world, found that most of us aren’t getting enough sleep and that lack of sleep is mainly determined by the time we go to bed.

The study ‘A global quantification of “normal” sleep schedules using smartphone data’, by scientists and researchers at the University of Michigan, combined mathematical modelling and app technology to investigate the roles society and biology play in global sleeping patterns.

According to the study the Dutch have almost an hour more in bed each night than people in Singapore or Japan, with the Dutch sleeping an average eight hours and 12 minutes versus seven hours and 24 minutes sleep for those living in Singapore or Japan. For expatriates this has interesting implications - could the country you've made your home in be having an impact on your sleep patterns?

The study also found women aged between 30-60 on average slept for 30 minutes longer than men of the same age, with middle-aged men getting the least sleep of all.

The biggest impact on sleep duration was average bedtime, the later a person stays up into the night, the less sleep they get, however the time they wake up has little effect on sleep duration.

Cultural pressures can override natural rhythms, with the effects showing up most markedly at bedtime.

The study found that people who spend significant amounts of time in daylight on a daily basis tended to sleep earlier as well as getting more sleep than those who spent more time in artificial light. Potentially, this could mean that expats living in countries with climates conducive to spending time outdoors could be getting better sleep than those who do not. While morning responsibilities like work, kids and school play a role in wake-time, the researchers say these are not the only factor.
“Across the board, it appears that society governs bedtime and one’s internal clock governs wake time, and a later bedtime is linked to a loss of sleep,” said Daniel Forger from University of Michigan college of literature, science and the arts.

“At the same time, we found a strong wake-time effect from users’ biological clocks — not just their alarm clocks. These findings help to quantify the tug-of-war between solar and social timekeeping,” he added.
“Sleep is more important than a lot of people realise. Even if you get six hours a night, you’re still building up a sleep debt,” noted Olivia Walch, doctoral student in the mathematics department.

According to the researchers every half hour of sleep makes a big difference in terms of cognitive function and long-term health.

“It doesn’t take that many days of not getting enough sleep before you’re functionally drunk,” Walch noted, adding that the researchers have figured out that being overly tired can have that effect.

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