Stressed out without enough sleep

Sleep is a necessary human function — it allows our brains to recharge and our bodies to rest.1 When we do not sleep long or well enough, our bodies do not get the full benefits of sleep, such as muscle repair and memory consolidation.2 Sleep is so crucial that even slight sleep deprivation or poor sleep can affect memory, judgment and mood.3 In addition to feelings of listlessness, chronic sleep deprivation can contribute to health problems, from obesity and high blood pressure to safety risks while driving.4 Research has shown that most Americans would be happier, healthier and safer if they were to sleep an extra 60 to 90 minutes per night.5

This year’s Stress in America™ survey shows that stress may be interfering with Americans’ sleep, keeping many adults and teens from getting the sleep they need to be healthy.

The sleep-stress cycle

Adults who sleep fewer than eight hours a night are more likely to report symptoms of stress.Survey findings show that stress may be getting in the way of quality sleep. American adults report sleeping an average of 6.7 hours a night — less than the minimum recommendation of seven to nine hours.6 In addition, 42 percent of adults report that their sleep quality is fair or poor and 43 percent report that stress has caused them to lie awake at night in the past month.

Many report that their stress increases when the length and quality of their sleep decreases.

When they do not get enough sleep, 21 percent of adults report feeling more stressed. Adults with higher reported stress levels (eight, nine or 10 on a 10-point scale) fare even worse — 45 percent feel even more stressed if they do not get enough sleep. Five percent of adults with lower reported stress levels (one, two or three on the 10-point scale) say the same.

Only 20 percent of adults say the quality of their sleep is very good or excellent.

Thirty-seven percent of adults report fatigue or feeling tired because of stress.

Many adults report negative consequences from not getting enough sleep. More than half (53 percent) report feeling sluggish or lazy, 38 percent report feeling irritable, 29 percent report they have trouble concentrating and 25 percent report feeling no motivation to take care of responsibilities.

Adults who sleep fewer than eight hours a night report higher stress levels than those who sleep at least eight hours a night (5.5 vs. 4.4 on a 10-point scale).

On average, adults with lower reported stress levels report sleeping more hours a night than do adults with higher reported stress levels (7.1 vs. 6.2 hours). They are also more likely to say they have excellent or very good-quality sleep (33 percent vs. 8 percent) and get enough sleep (79 percent vs. 33 percent).

Adults who sleep fewer than eight hours a night are more likely to report symptoms of stress in the past month, such as feeling irritable or angry, than adults who sleep more than eight hours a night (45 percent vs. 32 percent of adults); feeling overwhelmed (40 percent vs. 27 percent); lacking interest, motivation or energy (42 percent vs. 30 percent); losing patience or yelling at their children (52 percent vs. 27 percent); losing patience or yelling at their spouse or partner (50 percent vs. 36 percent); and skipping exercise (41 percent vs. 33 percent). They are also more likely to say their stress has increased in the past year (40 percent vs. 25 percent).

Adults with high stress are more likely to say they are not getting enough sleep because their minds race (49 percent vs. 10 percent of adults with low stress).

Adults with high stress are also more likely than those with low stress to say they feel the effects of getting too little sleep:

  • Sixty-eight percent say they feel sluggish or lazy versus 36 percent of adults with low stress.
  • Fifty-nine percent say they are irritable versus 20 percent of adults with low stress.
  • Forty-five percent say they have trouble concentrating versus 12 percent of adults with low stress.
  • Forty-five percent say they feel more stressed versus five percent of adults with low stress.
  • Twenty-seven percent say they feel sad or depressed versus two percent of adults with low stress.
Stress also affects teens’ sleep

Teens also report that stress has an impact on their sleep and vice versa. Teens report sleeping far less than the minimum age-based recommendation of 8.5 to 9.25 hours.7 On average, teens say they sleep 7.4 hours a night on a school night and 8.1 hours a night on a non-school night. Nearly one-quarter of teens (24 percent) also report that their sleep quality is fair or poor.

More than one-third of teens (35 percent) report that stress caused them to lie awake at night in the past month. And for teens who sleep fewer than eight hours per school night, many say their stress level has increased over the past year (42 percent), compared with 23 percent of teens who sleep at least eight hours per school night. In addition, 18 percent of teens say that when they do not get enough sleep, they are more stressed and 36 percent of teens report feeling tired because of stress in the past month. Thirty-nine percent of teens with higher reported stress levels (eight, nine or 10 on a 10-point scale) during the past school year feel even more stressed if they do not get enough sleep, while only 3 percent of teens with lower reported stress levels (one, two or three on a 10-point scale) during the past school year say the same.

When they do not sleep enough, more than half of teens (53 percent) report feeling sluggish or lazy and 42 percent say they feel irritable. Thirty-two percent say they are unable to concentrate and 23 percent report feeling no motivation to take care of responsibilities.

Teens with low stress during the past school year report sleeping more hours per night than do teens with high stress (7.8 vs. 6.9 hours).

Ninety percent of teens with low reported stress levels during the past school year say they get enough sleep, compared to less than half (48 percent) of teens with high reported stress levels during the past school year.

Teens with lower reported stress levels during the past school year are also more likely than highly stressed teens to say they have excellent or very good-quality sleep (59 vs. 22 percent). Teens with high reported stress levels during the past school year are more likely to report having trouble sleeping well — 43 percent say they do not get enough sleep because their mind races, compared to 9 percent of teens with low stress who say the same.

Teens who report experiencing high stress during the past school year are also more likely than those who report having low stress to say they feel the effects of getting too little sleep:

  • Sixty-one percent of highly stressed teens say they feel sluggish or lazy versus 42 percent of teens with low stress.
  • Fifty-four percent of highly stressed teens say they are irritable versus 25 percent of teens with low stress.
  • Forty-four percent of highly stressed teens say they have trouble concentrating versus 20 percent of teens with low stress.
  • Thirty-nine percent of highly stressed teens say they are more stressed versus three percent of teens with low stress.
  • Twenty-six percent of highly stressed teens say they feel sad or depressed versus one percent of teens with low stress.

When it comes to stress, teens who get fewer than eight hours of sleep on a school night appear to fare worse than teens getting eight hours of sleep on school nights:

  • Teens who sleep fewer than eight hours per school night report higher stress levels in the past month than teens who sleep at least eight hours per school night (5.2 vs. 4.1 on a 10-point scale).
  • Teens who sleep fewer than eight hours on a school night are more likely than teens who sleep at lease eight hours on a school night to report experiencing symptoms of stress, such as feeling irritable or angry (50 percent vs. 32 percent), nervous or anxious (46 percent vs. 28 percent), depressed or sad (43 percent vs. 18 percent) and overwhelmed (42 percent vs. 22 percent).
Teens with low stress are more likely than teens with high stress to say they get enough sleep.  Teens who sleep fewer than eight hours on a school night are more likely to report experiencing symptoms of stress.
Younger generations are not sleeping well, often due to stress

Younger Americans (Millennials and Gen Xers) report getting fewer hours of sleep per night on average, and are more likely than other adults to say they do not get good-quality sleep and have more trouble achieving their sleep goals.8 Younger adults are more likely to say they feel stressed by a lack of sleep (Millennials: 29 percent; Gen Xers: 23 percent) than Boomers (19 percent) and Matures (7 percent). Millennials and Gen Xers are also more likely to report feeling sad or depressed because of stress (Millennials: 47 percent; Gen Xers: 42 percent; Boomers: 29 percent; Matures: 15 percent).

Younger Americans are more likely to report consequences of unhealthy sleeping habits.Gen Xers are most likely to say that they sleep fewer than eight hours a night (77 percent vs. 74 percent of Boomers, 66 percent of Matures and 64 percent of Millennials). They are also least likely to say they are getting enough sleep (45 percent vs. 74 percent of Matures, 56 percent of Boomers and 54 percent of Millennials).

Half of Gen Xers (49 percent) say their sleep quality is fair or poor, compared to 43 percent of Millennials, 42 percent of boomers and 28 percent of matures.

Only 24 percent of Gen Xers say they are doing a very good or excellent job at getting enough sleep, despite the majority of this generation (61 percent) who say that getting enough sleep is extremely or very important to them. A wide gap between perceived importance and achievement of sleep goals also exists for Millennials (59 percent vs. 28 percent), Boomers (64 percent vs. 30 percent) and Matures (70 percent vs. 50 percent).

Gen Xers and millennials are most likely to say lack of sleep makes them irritable (49 percent and 47 percent, respectively, vs. 30 percent of Boomers and 15 percent of Matures).

While Gen Xers report sleeping the fewest hours, Millennials report poorer sleep habits than other adults. In particular, Millennials are more likely to say they do not get at least eight hours of sleep because they stay up too late (52 percent compared with 36 percent of Gen Xers, 29 percent of Boomers and 22 percent of Matures).

Nearly one-third of Millennials also attribute lack of sleep to thinking of all the things they need to do or did not get done (31 percent compared with 27 percent of Gen Xers, 24 percent of Boomers and 14 percent of Matures).

More than one-third of Millennials say they do not sleep at least eight hours a night because they have too many things to do and do not have enough time (35 percent compared with 19 percent of Gen Xers, 13 percent of Boomers and 6 percent of Matures).

Younger Americans are also more likely to report consequences of unhealthy sleeping habits. When they do not get enough sleep, 60 percent of Millennials say they feel sluggish or lazy, compared to 58 percent of Gen Xers, 50 percent of Boomers and 37 percent of Matures; 38 percent of Millennials say they have trouble concentrating on things they need to do, compared to 32 percent of Gen Xers, 27 percent of Boomers and 11 percent of Matures; and 34 percent of Millennials say they are not motivated to take care of responsibilities, compared to 23 percent of Gen Xers, 22 percent of Boomers and 14 percent of Matures.

Footnotes

1Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School and WGBH Educational Foundation. (n.d.). Why do we sleep, anyway? Healthy Sleep . Retrieved from http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/healthy/matters/benefits-of-sleep/why-do-we-sleep.

2National Sleep Foundation. (n.d.). What happens when you sleep? Retrieved from http://www.sleepfoundation.org/article/how-sleep-works/what-happens-when-you-sleep.

3Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School and WGBH Educational Foundation. (n.d.). Consequences of insufficient sleep. Healthy Sleep. Retrieved from http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/healthy/matters/consequences.

4Spira, A. P., Gamaldo, A. A., An, Y., Wu, M. N., Simonsick, E. M., Bilgel, M., … & Resnick, S. M. (2013, October). Self-reported sleep and β-amyloid deposition in community-dwelling older adults. The Journal of the American Medical Association Neurology. doi:10.1001/jamaneurol.2013.4258.

5American Psychological Association. (2004, May). More sleep would make most Americans happier, healthier and safer. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/research/action/sleep-deprivation.aspx.

6National Sleep Foundation. (n.d.). How much sleep do we really need? Retrieved from http://www.sleepfoundation.org/article/how-sleep-works/how-much-sleep-do-we-really-need.

7Ibid.

8The four generations are defined as the following: Millennials (18- to 34-year-olds), Gen Xers (35- to 48-year-olds), Boomers (49- to 67-year-olds) and Matures (68 years and older).