This Data Shows A Shocking Worldwide Lack of Sleep

7 Min Read | By Leigh Horan

Last Modified 27 May 2022   First Added 4 September 2016

This article was written and reviewed in line with our editorial policy.

For many sleep has become an almost unattainable commodity, a luxury reserved for the fortunate few who don’t feel the various strings of responsibility pulling them in a thousand directions at once. Having to work full-time, care for family, hang out with friends and find time for the gym leaves precious little time for sleep. There is also the competitive aspect of missing out on sleep, which is when people are constantly pushing themselves to achieve at the expense of adequate rest.

A woman in a green and red dress standing against a whitewashed brick wall holds a red clock to their face

What is the global average amount of sleep?

In 1942, 8 hours of sleep was the norm, now 6.8 is the average. Altogether this worldwide amassed sleep debt is one large alarm bell. New data from Sleep Cycle has now shown that no country in the world manages to achieve 8 hours of sleep on a regular basis. As the recommended range of sleep for an adult is 7-9 hours a night, this highlights a worrying lack of sleep throughout the world.

Worldwide statistics

According to the data, not one country, out of the 48 that participated, manages an average of 8 hours of sleep a night. In fact, in Japan, the national average is 5 hours and 59 minutes, representing a drastically low sleep average for the country. The 5 worst countries for average hours of sleep, in order of worst sleepers, include:

  1. Japan = 5 hours and 59 minutes
  2. Saudi Arabia = 6 hours and 8 minutes
  3. Sweden = 6 hours and 10 minutes
  4. India = 6 hours and 20 minutes
  5. The Philippines = 6 hours and 22 minutes
image of a bar chart

When the minimum amount of 7 hours of sleep a night is taken into consideration, it’s evident that these countries have an inordinately high sleep debt, falling well below their sleep needs. For comparative purposes, the 5 best countries for average sleeping time, in order of most hours achieved, include:

  1. New Zealand = 7 hours and 30 minutes
  2. The Netherlands = 7 hours and 28 minutes
  3. Finland =  7 hours and 26 minutes
  4. Great Britain = 7 hours and 24 minutes
  5. Ireland = 7 hours and 22 minutes

The highest total hours were achieved in New Zealand, where 7 hours and a half was the mean. When each country’s averages are collated this gives us a worldwide average of only 7 hours and 2 minutes spent in bed, which is only just scratching the surface of the recommended hours of sleep. Dr Michael J. Breus gives a dire warning concerning sleep deprivation:

‘Populations are at greater risk for a number of chronic diseases and mental health disorders, as well as challenges to daily life and relationships. These are dangerous and expensive problems.’

Worldwide productivity and sleep

Spending less time asleep could mean that those countries that achieve less sleep actually achieve more overall. However, when reviewed against global statistics this is clearly not the case. In fact, though short sleepers in Japan rank 6th in the world in the Global Competitiveness Index, they are evidently a rare exception.

The Japanese accept napping, or ‘inemuri’, in the workplace so, though they may have an incredibly low nightly sleep time, this does not include bouts of napping that likely occur throughout the day. Plus, it is important to note that this comes with its own cultural backing and levels of acceptance within the workplace, and they must maintain an upright posture whilst asleep. Thankfully, as long as you can incline slightly and are comfortable, sleeping in this manner doesn’t pose any health risks, but it does show the issues surrounding rest in Japanese society.

Napping during the day is a common habit in Asian culture. With a high population count and an increasing demand for 24-hour services, it makes sleep nearly impossible.

A woman sleeping on a pillow in an office, holding a blue mug and surrounded by work notes.

Asia is not the only part of the world where napping occurs during the workday. Many Spanish speaking countries take a siesta around noon, helping everyone avoid the hottest hours of the day while catching up on some likely much-needed rest. This has become the social norm in the hotter parts of the world because of these benefits.

The five countries with poor sleep quality according to Sleep Cycle, are nearly all Eastern. The top five, however, are all Westernised countries, with all but New Zealand being based in Europe. This is likely because sleep in these countries is more affected by seasonal changesHowever, there are an array of different factors that have to be considered where sleep is an issue. The widespread availability of electricity and demand for 24/7 services have definitely affected how much sleep we achieve, with the fear of ‘missing out’, otherwise known as ‘FOMO’, leading people to sleep less to accommodate more.

Great Britain managed a sleep time of 7 hours and 24 minutes, with most falling asleep at 23:44 and waking at 07:24. This may seem like an adequate amount of sleep for most people, but bear in mind these figures show the average and therefore can vary. The statistics show that, though there may have been a selection of candidates who successfully achieved 8 hours, there was also a great deal that fell very short of the mark.

Age and sleep

A higher percentage of people older in age could have an effect on the statistics with those aged over 66 need only around 6.5 hours of sleep a night. However, those aged 2 and under will sleep on average for 14 hours, as the physical demand that growing places on them will leave them in constant need of rest. As there is a higher number of young people worldwide than there are elderly people, the fact that the data still shows a relatively low sleep average per nation is particularly worrying.

If the adults in these nations were achieving the recommended amount of sleep then the data would show a higher average, as the figures would be skewed by babies sleeping for long stretches of the day. Instead, the long periods that children sleep for has no effect on the data at all, signifying a strong likelihood that many adults achieve much, much less than their nation’s nightly sleep average.

A young child is asleep in a white baby feeding chair

‘Chronic sleep deprivation has been reported to be associated with greater mortality via a large number of negative health outcomes, including obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease’ according to Dr Malcolm von Schantz of the University of Surrey. What this means is that if these statistics remain true, or even decrease, then there’s an increasingly higher chance of a worldwide population riddled with health complaints caused by something very preventable.

What does lack of sleep do?

We’re all aware of just how much we need sleep to function properly.  In fact, there are a number of side effects that occur as a result of a lack of sleep and only worsen after a long period without those magic hours of sleep. A few of these include:

  • Irritability and a generally more negative mood
  • Unhappiness and depression
  • Low sex drive and a lack of energy
  • Problems with memory and retaining information
  • Weight gain and associated health issues

These side effects emphasise the issues that sleep deprivation can cause, however it should be noted that this may not be universal. Each individual does have their own sleep cycle, and getting the right amount of sleep can vary wildly between individuals. Still, for most adults getting between 7 to nine hours a night is ideal, as stated by Healthline.

Women is yawning in front of laptop wearing white headphones.

A growing awareness of the impact that a lack of sleep has on our lives means many people are taking steps to better their rest. But this means that we first have to understand our sleep so we know what areas need the most improvement. If you would like to learn how you can get better sleep quality each night, make sure to read how to sleep better at night.

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