Part 2: Sleeping Like a Log

Some people count sheep, we count sleep. Did you know that over 25,000 years of sleep have been logged on the Glow apps? The Glow and Glow Nurture apps ask women to note their sleep patterns; good sleep is one of the cornerstones of a healthy life, after all — and it affects fertility, pregnancy, and beyond.

Sleep has been a sexy topic of recent (thanks, Arianna Huffington!), but it’s hard to get reliable population level data on sleep — and there hasn’t been much focus on how sleep affects women’s bodies in particular.

We’re working to change that. Recently, we published new findings about sleep during pregnancy. Piggy-backing on that, we’re here to share trends we observed in the sleep data we’ve collected on the Glow app. Here’s to our findings helping you sleep tight (or understanding why it’s hard to)!

Demographics Affect Your Doze

On the surface, sleep seems like something that should fall within our control: we choose our bedtimes, we set our alarms. The data tells us otherwise. Sleep logs from Glow users indicate that demographic factors beyond our control — age and race — significantly affect sleep length and quality.

More Years, More Yawns

Sleep is wasted on the young. Our data shows that younger women sleep more: Women under 25 get the most sleep, at slightly over 7.5 hours per night, on average. Twenty-five to 35 year-old women get 12–15 minutes less sleep per night than the under 25-ers, on average. And those over 35 get 12–15 minutes less sleep than the 25–35 crew. Let’s hope the trend of decreasing sleep does not continue.

Sleep scientists say that changing sleep architecture is to blame for the decline in sleep as we age. Sleep occurs in multiple stages: dreamless periods of light and deep sleep, and occasional periods of active dreaming (REM sleep). We cycle through these stages on repeat each night. As we age, we start to spend more time in the lighter stages of sleep than we do in deep sleep — a result of the fact that neurons in the brain’s ventrolateral preoptic nucleus (which regulates sleep) slowly die off as we get older.

As our sleep quality diminishes, the amount of time we spend in bed decreases. Add to that the fact that conditions that affect sleep quality like insomnia and sleep apnea become more common with age. There’s just so much to look forward to…

Skin Color and Your Sleep

We were stunned to see a remarkably strong relationship between Glow users’ race and sleepy time. Those users who identify as white report getting the most sleep on Glow; hispanic women get ~10–12 minutes less than whites, on average, and black women report the least sleep by an additional 10–12 minutes.

Why is this happening? Clinical research presents a few theories, but no definitive answers. Biology is not a factor, nor are differences in household income, according to our data. In fact, within each income bracket, the data is consistent.

Regardless, the consequences of less sleep and lower quality sleep are real: heart disease, diabetes, obesity, among others. These conditions disproportionately affect black communities, who are 33% more likely to die of heart disease, 1.7 times more likely to have diabetes, and 1.5 times more likely to be obese, according to the Atlantic.

Just a handful of minutes?

You’ve probably noticed that most of the sleep differences revealed by our investigation seem minor on the surface — 5 minutes less sleep here, 15 fewer minutes there. But the minutes matter. Cognitive neuroscientist Dr. Jessica Payne argues that sleeping just 20 more minutes a night can triple your performance at work! So yes, these tiny chunks of time are more consequential than they seem.

The sleep deficits we observed amongst women of different ages and races are huge issues. It’s one thing to see these results in the lab, but another to see them confirmed by our data at the population-level. For this reason, we felt compelled to leverage our data and join the conversation.

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