Health And Wellness

The Sad Reason Almost Nobody Is Getting A Good Night’s Sleep, According To Research

Photo:  Tuiphotoengineer | Canva
woman on her smart phone late at night

Every now and again, you read a study online that makes you think “I’m living my life wrong.”

I feel that way almost every time I read about sleep.

Pretty much no one is getting a good night’s sleep, says research

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I almost never get eight hours of sleep a night. I don’t suspect most people do. But, there are these campaigns going that let us know that we’re ruining our lives thanks to a sleep standard that feels impossible to ever meet.

Arianna Huffington has become a big “you’re not sleeping enough” advocate, penning a book called The Sleep Revolution and arguing that Donald Trump would have been a more reasonable president if his advisors took away his phone and made him sleep eight hours a night. (Debate that, however you will.)

But my sleep inadequacies aren’t just about insomnia or the duration of my sleep anymore. I read some research from The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) that said there are four key indicators about the quality of your sleep.

According to their data, the NSF says you know you’re getting a good night’s sleep if you are…

  • Sleeping more time while in bed (at least 85 percent of the total time)
  • Falling asleep in 30 minutes or less
  • Waking up no more than once per night
  • Being awake for 20 minutes or less after initially falling asleep.

If those are the four indicators of a healthy sleep life… I am screwed. (And I bet a lot of other people are, too.)

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The first one isn’t so bad — do you spend 85% of your time in bed sleeping? For me, that’s probably the case (with notable exceptions for TV and intimacy).

The next piece of criteria is where everything falls off the rails for me. Who falls asleep in 30 minutes or less?

I just assumed that everyone, like me, spends a good 60-90 minutes watching Netflix and super-random YouTube clips on their phone in bed before they even thought about going to sleep.

I think science actually backs me up on that. A study said that 71% of Americans sleep with their smartphones next to their beds.

Why do we do this? For me, thanks to the insane pace of life today, that downtime in bed right before sleep is some of the only “me time” I get.

When I crawl into bed, I don’t immediately think, “OK, time to get some rest.” Instead, I think “OMG, this is the first moment of peace I’ve had all day.” And, because that time is so precious, I normally spend it indulging in guilty pleasures — like watching every movie trailer ever or rewatching favorite seasons of Doctor Who.

While that lets me feel like I’ve somehow wrestled back control of my life, it’s also pretty terrible for my sleep, apparently. More than once, I’ve gone down an online-streaming rabbit hole, with my phone perched on my stomach, and suddenly realized that it’s 3 a.m. and I have to wake up in four hours.

The National Sleep Foundation says that 27 percent of people take more than 30 minutes to fall asleep, but I’m surprised that percentage isn’t higher. Because, after my nightly binge of comforting video content, it definitely takes me longer to actually lapse into unconsciousness.

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The bright lights of the screen, the weight of everything I just watched — it turns my brain on. I can hear it whirring like the fan on my laptop. And it takes a while to wind down.

In terms of the other criteria that indicate quality sleep…

“Waking up no more than once per night” — I’m a parent who has a kid who sleepwalks and a dog who regularly realizes that he needs to pee at 3 a.m., so… yeah, that’s not happening.

And “Being awake for 20 minutes or less after initially falling asleep” — if I’m lucky, this is the case, but, like many of you, I have a kid, a dog, and a bad, bad habit of waking up in the middle of the night to obsess about a work email that I should’ve sent hours earlier.

So, according to the National Sleep Foundation, the quality of my sleep is horrific.

What about yours? Am I alone in this? I feel like there are more people like me — watching cat videos at 2 am — than there are Arianna Huffingtons in the world, but maybe I’m wrong.

Maybe you’re all getting eight hours of sleep a night and are falling asleep five seconds after your head hits the pillow. If that’s the case, more power to you.

But, if not, maybe keep the NSF’s four quality sleep indicators in mind when you’re winding down tonight. Better quality sleep would be awesome, but most of us have a lot of work to do before we can get there.

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Tom Burns has served as a contributing editor for 8BitDad and The Good Men Project, and his writing has been featured on Babble, Brightly,, Time Magazine, and various other sites.