Measuring Sleep Efficiency: What Should the Denominator Be?

J Clin Sleep Med. 2016 Feb;12(2):263-6. doi: 10.5664/jcsm.5498.


Inconsistency in operationally defining sleep efficiency (SE) creates confusion with regard to the conceptualization and use of the construct by researchers and clinicians. The source of the inconsistency is the denominator of the widely published operational definition of SE: ratio of total sleep time (TST) to time in bed (TIB) (multiplied by 100 to yield a percentage). When taken literally, TIB includes non-sleep-related activity (e.g., reading, texting, conversing with a partner, watching television) both prior to initiating sleep and after the final awakening. However, the construct of SE refers to TST compared to the amount of time spent attempting to initially fall asleep and sleep discontinuity. Non-sleep related activities in bed do not reflect that construct. Also, time out of bed during nighttime awakenings, a manifestation of sleep discontinuity, should be included in the SE denominator. Using TIB as the denominator can also create a methodological problem when SE is an outcome measure in sleep intervention research. It is proposed that research and practice would benefit by clarifying and adopting a consistent operational definition that more accurately captures the construct of SE. An alternate denominator, duration of the sleep episode (DSE), is suggested, where DSE = sleep onset latency (SOL) + TST + time awake after initial sleep onset but before the final awakening (WASO) + time attempting to sleep after final awakening (TASAFA). The proposed formula for SE would be: SE = TST / DSE (× 100). DSE can be easily calculated using standard sleep diary entries along with one item from the Expanded Consensus Sleep Diary. Implications for insomnia research and practice are discussed.

Keywords: insomnia; sleep efficiency; time in bed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Sleep / physiology*
  • Sleep Hygiene / physiology
  • Sleep Medicine Specialty / methods
  • Sleep Medicine Specialty / standards
  • Time Factors