Sleep debt at the community level: impact of age, sex, race/ethnicity and health

Sleep Health. 2018 Aug;4(4):317-324. doi: 10.1016/j.sleh.2018.05.007. Epub 2018 Jun 29.


Objectives: Insufficient sleep has become recognized as a pervasive problem in modern society. Sleep debt is a novel measure of sleep adequacy that may be useful in describing those at risk for inadequate sleep. Our objective was to investigate factors that may be associated with sleep debt at the population level, as well as build upon previous data that showed that minority groups may be more likely to have sleep debt.

Design: A cross-sectional population phone survey included questions regarding amount of sleep required and amount of sleep achieved. Sleep debt was calculated by subtracting sleep achieved from sleep required.

Setting: This study was designed by the Philadelphia Health Management Corporation and conducted over landlines and cell phones.

Participants: The Random Digit Dialing method was used to randomly choose 8,752 adults older than 18 years from several counties in and around Philadelphia to answer questions about sleep.

Measurements: Logistic regression was performed to test associations between sleep debt and various sociodemographic factors in different population subgroups to identify those at risk for sub-optimal sleep duration.

Results: Sleep debt was seen to decrease with age, a novel finding that is in contrast with literature suggesting that older adults have poor sleep. Greater sleep debt was also associated with female gender, Hispanic/Latino ethnicity, <40 years of age, self-reported poor health, and increased stress.

Conclusions: Although older adults may sleep less as they age, they may also require less sleep to feel rested, resulting in less sleep debt. This and other demographic factors, such as female gender and Hispanic/Latino ethnicity, can be used to identify those at higher risk of inadequate sleep and potentially manage their sleep debt.

Keywords: Insomnia; Older adults; Sleep debt; Sleep duration; Sleep quality.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Distribution
  • Aged
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Ethnicity / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Public Health*
  • Racial Groups / statistics & numerical data
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Distribution
  • Sleep Deprivation / epidemiology*
  • Sleep Deprivation / ethnology
  • Time Factors
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Young Adult