Our sleep is affected by a multitude of factors in our daily lives from screen usage before bed (see our blog on internet addiction), to our diets, caffeine intake, health conditions and even chaotic work schedules. However, are we at a disadvantage purely based on where we live?
According to a study performed in 2016, The Netherlands, New Zealand, France, Australia and Belgium were the top five countries getting the most sleep. People in these countries were found to get an average of 8 hours and 1 to 5 minutes of sleep per night. Meanwhile, Singapore and Japan were the least rested, with an average of only 7 hours and 24 to 30 minutes of sleep per night. This difference of half an hour may seem small, but can have critical effects on a person’s health over time.
So, how can your country affect your sleep? Researchers observed that countries that were geographically close to each other, and had similar cultures, shared similar sleep and bedtime habits. This may explain, for example, why New Zealand and Australia, were both in the top 5 most rested countries. Importantly, the social culture of a country, rather than other factors such as sun exposure, were found to have the greatest impact on sleep. Further, cultural norms with respect to bedtime were found to be more important for sleep duration than the time of waking.
Culture, age and gender also contribute to how well a person, and hence a country, sleeps on the whole. For example, as women have been found to sleep for slightly longer than men, countries with more women have a greater average sleep duration.
Another important influence on a countries’ sleep is its wealth. In general, people in wealthier countries get more sleep, with the exception of Singapore, where the GDP per person is high but sleep duration is low. In general people in Asian countries sleep less than people in European, North American, and Oceanian countries.
Happiness is another key factor linked to quality sleep. In 2019, Finland, which was found to be the happiest country among the 26 analysed, also had the highest average sleep time of 7 hours and 5 minutes per night. But the question is, does happiness lead to great sleep or does great sleep lead to happiness?
It is important to appreciate that there are limitations to studies like these, where the results are based on smartphone app data. Only a small number of countries are included, and huge numbers of people in less wealthy countries who may not have smartphones are excluded from the count. Therefore, there could still be a country somewhere in the world where the people are unknowingly the best sleepers on earth. Hopefully, one day we will be able to unlock their secrets!