In Search of Lost Sheep: Sleep in the 21st Century

By Adriana Selwyn and Daniel Kotzen

Facebook feed: check, work e-mails: check, news headlines: check, work e-mails: check. Sleep? We’ll get back to you on that. In our increasingly busy, hyper-connected world, sleep is itself becoming as ephemeral as a dream. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has declared insufficient sleep to be a serious public health problem with approximately one in three U.S. adults not getting the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep a night.[i] Vitality data suggests that more than six percent of its members get less than six hours of sleep a night.

Yet sleep is a basic human need, essential for good health and quality of life. It allows our bodies to rest and our brains to recharge, helping with muscle repair, memory consolidation and a stronger immune system.[ii]

The implications of sleep deprivation are far-reaching and potentially catastrophic. Minor sleep deprivation affects memory, judgment and mood, while more serious chronic sleep deprivation is linked to a range of health problems. Insufficient sleep has been linked to the development and poor management of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity and depression.[iii] Further, there is an association between poor quality sleep and anxiety, reduced levels of physical activity, poorer quality diet and reduced workplace productivity.[iv],[v],[vi] This pans out in Vitality’s data with clients possessing high levels of sleep risk having been found to be strongly correlated with stress, absenteeism, job performance and negatively correlated with life and work satisfaction as well as general health perception, not to mention health risk more generally.

While more serious sleep disorders such as insomnia and sleep apnea require medical attention, there are many simple strategies to get better quality shut-eye including:

  • Going to bed and waking up at the same time each day
  • Creating a relaxing bedtime ritual
  • Avoiding excess caffeine during the day and large meals before bed
  • Exercising regularly
  • Optimizing the temperature, light and ambient noises in your bedroom
  • Keeping electronics out of the bedroom and avoiding light-emitting devices (TV, cell phones, tablets) at least one hour before bedtime

With Vitality’s new Sleep Well program, members are incentivized to check one healthy sleep behavior off the list: putting their phones to rest for eight hours. Members achieve sleep glory upon completing 20 nights of screen-less sleep during a one-month cycle, establishing sound bedtime routines that will – ideally – place them on the fast track to vitality facilitated by a good night’s rest.

Although most people put their phones to sleep at around the same time (roughly 8:30 p.m.), it was the older individuals who picked up their phone the earliest – people over 60 picked up their phones a full hour earlier (at 5:58 a.m.) than their under-30 counterparts (7:03 a.m.). Furthermore, members working in the mining, quarrying, oil and gas extraction industries awoke earliest at around 5:59 a.m. on average while those in the retail trades and the arts awoke after 7 a.m. For those wondering what time the average American wakes up – 6:36 a.m. is apparently the anointed hour.

The program, launched only last month, has already seen thousands of members successfully complete their first sleep-cycle goal. Impressively, almost 70 percent of members who previously self-reported obtaining an average of less than six hours of sleep managed to attain their Sleep Well goal, which is clearly a step in the right direction.

Recent surveys have suggested that 58 percent of individuals check their phones within 30 minutes prior to going to sleep.vii  While there may not be a cure-all to insomnia, we can all benefit from nudges that might help us improve both our sleep quality and consistency with a respite from the perpetual clicks on the blue screens that permeate our lives.


[i] Sleep and Chronic Disease. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Published July 1, 2013. Accessed March 9, 2017.

[ii] What Happens When You Sleep? National Sleep Foundation. Accessed March 9, 2017.

[iii] Getting Enough Sleep? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Published February 23, 2016. Accessed March 9, 2017.

[iv] The Complex Relationship Between Sleep, Depression & Anxiety. Excessive Sleepiness. Accessed March 9, 2017.

[v] Diet, Exercise and Sleep. National Sleep Foundation. Accessed March 9, 2017.

[vi] Lack of Sleep is Affecting Americans, Finds the National Sleep Foundation. National Sleep Foundation. Accessed March 9, 2017.

[vii] There’s no place like phone: Consumer usage patterns in the era of peak smartphone. Deloitte.

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