According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (Kasper, 2015) adults require at least 7 hours of sleep per night to avoid the health risks associated with chronic sleep deprivation. Less than 6 hours and more than 10 hours is also not recommended for those in middle adulthood (National Sleep Foundation, 2015). Not surprisingly, many Americans do not receive the 7-9 hours of sleep recommended. In 2013, only 59% of U.S. adults met that standard, while in 1942, 84% did (Jones, 2013). This means 41% of Americans receive less than the recommended amount of nightly sleep. Additional results included that in 1993, 67% of Americans felt they were getting enough sleep, but in 2013 only 56% felt they received as much sleep as needed. Additionally, 43% of Americans in 2013 believed they would feel better with more sleep.

Sleep problems: According to the Sleep in America poll (National Sleep Foundation, 2015), 9% of Americans report being diagnosed with a sleep disorder, and of those 71% have sleep apnea and 24% suffer from insomnia. Pain is also a contributing factor in the difference between the amount of sleep Americans say they need and the amount they are getting. An average of 42 minutes of sleep debt occur for those with chronic pain, and 14 minutes for those who have suffered from acute pain in the past week. Stress and overall poor health are also key components of shorter sleep durations and worse sleep quality. Those in midlife with lower life satisfaction experienced greater delay in the onset of sleep than those with higher life satisfaction. Delayed onset of sleep could be the result of worry and anxiety during midlife, and improvements in those areas should improve sleep. Lastly, menopause can affect a woman’s sleep duration and quality (National Sleep Foundation, 2016).

Table 8.6 Presence of Children and Sleep

Children in the home and sleep: As expected, having children at home affects the amount of sleep one receives. According to a 2016 National Center for Health Statistics analysis (CDC, 2016) having children decreases the amount of sleep an individual receives, however, having a partner can improve the amount of sleep for both males and females. Table 8.6 illustrates the percentage of individuals not receiving seven hours of sleep per night based on parental role.

Negative consequences of insufficient sleep:

There are many consequences of too little sleep, and they include physical, cognitive, and emotional changes. Sleep deprivation suppresses immune responses that fight off infection, and can lead to obesity, memory impairment, and hypertension (Ferrie et al., 2007; Kushida, 2005). Insufficient sleep is linked to an increased risk for colon cancer, breast cancer, heart disease and type 2 diabetes (Pattison, 2015). A lack of sleep can increase stress as cortisol (a stress hormone) remains elevated which keeps the body in a state of alertness and hyperarousal which increases blood pressure. Sleep is also associated with longevity. Dew et al. (2003) found that older adults who had better sleep patterns also lived longer. During deep sleep a growth hormone is released which stimulates protein synthesis, breaks down fat that supplies energy, and stimulates cell division. Consequently, a decrease in deep sleep contributes to less growth hormone being released and subsequent physical decline seen in aging (Pattison, 2015).

Sleep disturbances can also impair glucose functioning in middle adulthood. Caucasian, African American, and Chinese non-shift-working women aged 48–58 years who were not taking insulin-related medications, participated in the Study of Women’s Health across the Nation (SWAN) Sleep Study and were subsequently examined approximately 5 years later (Taylor et al., 2016). Body mass index (BMI) and insulin resistance were measured at two time points. Results indicated that irregular sleep schedules, including highly variable bedtimes and staying up much later than usual, are associated in midlife women with insulin resistance, which is an important indicator of metabolic health, including diabetes risk. Diabetes risk increases in midlife women, and irregular sleep schedules may be an important reason because irregular bedtime schedules expose the body to varying levels of light, which is the most important timing cue for the body’s circadian clock. By disrupting circadian timing, bedtime variability may impair glucose metabolism and energy homeostasis.