Who Sleeps Worst in the US? The Surprising Truth

Who Sleeps Worst in the US? The Surprising Truth by Kelly BulkeleyAn excellent guest post on Ryan Hurd’s Dream Studies website by A.L. Castonguay looks at sleep as a misunderstood public health issue.  Specifically, who in America is sleeping relatively well, and who is sleeping poorly?  The latter group is important to identify because inadequate sleep can lead to physical, emotional, and cognitive problems–not to mention disrupted, diminished dreaming.

Castonguay draws upon data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) on sleeplessness in the US to discuss factors of age, region, employment status, and obesity, among other demographic variables.  Castonguay’s analysis shows that people who most often report sleeplessness, “defined as insufficient sleep (less than 7 hours per night) on more than 14 days within the past 30, are predominantly people of color…between the ages of 25-44, unable to work, and obese.”

These findings raise a number of questions about the cultural and behavioral influences on sleep.  I have also found in previous research that poor sleep corresponds to economic anxieties and employment concerns (e.g., Chapter 5, “Work and Money,” of American Dreamers).  I just received data from a new demographic survey of American adults, and a quick scan of the results point in the same direction–people at the lower end of the income scale sleep worse than people at the top end.

The obesity figures are striking, especially when shown on a regional map of the US.  The Southern part of the US has the highest proportion both of people who are obese and who get insufficient sleep.  We don’t know what’s cause and effect, but it seems there’s a strong and dynamic relationship between the two problems.

It turns out that the states with the lowest relative frequencies of insufficient sleep are California, Oregon, and the Dakotas.  Who knew?

One point Castonguay doesn’t mention that intrigues me is the relatively good sleep of Asians and Hispanics compared to other people of color (Black, American Indian, Multiracial).  The number of participants in these racial/ethnic groups may be low and thus less statistically representative, but the figures are consistent with hints I’ve found in my own research.

If, as the topline results indicate, culture plays a role in quality of sleep, we need a lot more detailed information about how individual people’s sleep experiences are shaped by the multiple strands of cultural influence, including ethnic background, economic status, education, family life, and eating behaviors.


Research Suggestions Welcome

Research Suggestions Welcome by Kelly BulkeleyThe basic functionality of the Sleep and Dream Database is now in place and ready to use.  Some aesthetic tweaks still need to be made, and better export options are in the works, but I’m finally starting to turn my attention from the architecture of the database to its contents.  In coming weeks I will upload several new data sets, including the Hall and Van de Castle norm dreams, a new demographic survey from Harris Interactive, and a collection of reports from a small group of people who have been wearing the Zeo sleep manager device while keeping dream journals.


Looking farther ahead, I’d like to collect dream reports from distinctive individuals and/or groups whose waking life concerns could be studied in light of patterns in their dreams.  For example, I’d love to study the dreams of serious athletes to learn about their visions of victory and fears of injury or defeat.  It would be fascinating to look at the dreams of avid gun owners to understand better the psychological roots of their passion for firearms.  I’d be curious to explore the dreams of both prison inmates and prison guards, to get a deeper sense of life on both sides of the penal system.

Now the SDDb is up and running, these kinds of projects are easier than ever to pursue.

If you have suggestions about types of people you think would be good prospects for new research, please let me know.  Better yet, if you would like to collaborate in gathering and analyzing dreams from specific groups, I’d like to hear what you have in mind.