Health and Healthcare Systems

What type of sleeper are you? Scientists have identified 16 categories

A person sleeping

We may need more sleep than we think. Image: Unsplash/Andisheh A

Charlotte Edmond
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  • Environmental and genetic influences combine to dictate which type of sleeper you are.
  • Scientists have grouped sleepers into 16 types after studying activity tracker data for over 100,000 people.
  • Poor sleep is linked with a number of poor health outcomes.
  • It also has a negative impact on the economy.

It’s not just noisy neighbours, screaming babies or a love of nightclubs that determine whether you are an early bird or a night owl – genetics play an important role too. It’s the combination of these environmental and inherited characteristics that creates great diversity in our sleeping patterns.

Using data collected from fitness trackers, scientists have identified 16 categories of sleepers. This information could contribute to our understanding of common sleep problems such as insomnia.


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The sleep landscape

The researchers grouped people ranging from those who sleep all the way through the night and don’t nap in the day, to others who suffer significant periods of wakefulness during the night.

The data was drawn from measurements of wrist movements for more than 100,000 sleepers taken from the UK Biobank, creating what the researchers term a “real-world sleep landscape”.

Seven types of insomnia were classified, which the scientists believe offers significant insights. For example, insomnia with short sleep duration has been associated with impaired neurocognitive functioning, while insomnia with average sleep duration has been linked with anxious-ruminative profiles.

An infographic showing the recommended hours of sleep for human at different life stages
We need different amounts of sleep at different stages of our lives. Image:

The impact of shift work

The activity trackers also showed how the sleep patterns of shift workers are affected by switching working hours. Often their circadian rhythms – the natural process which regulates the sleep-wake cycle – are out of sync with their sleep schedule, which leads to shorter, less good-quality sleep.

The researchers note how better understanding the impact of daytime sleep and nighttime periods spent awake could help support the health of shift workers.

A chart showing
The market for sleeping aids is growing. Image:
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Struggling to sleep? You’re not alone

Most adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep a night, but plenty of us get far fewer than that. Statistics from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), for example, suggest that nearly a third of adults report sleeping less than seven hours a night.

Insomnia is common, with various studies putting the rate among the adult population at somewhere between 10% and 30%. And this lack of sleep has an impact on overall health. Studies have linked sleep deprivation with cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity and mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, among other things.

A map of the world showing the economic costs of insufficient sleep across five OECD countries
Sleep deprivation has a significant impact on the economy Image: NCBI

Sleep deprivation also has an impact on the economy and worker productivity. The CDC has gone so far as to declare insufficient sleep a public health problem, costing the US economy an estimated $411 billion, or 2.3% of GDP. The problem is even more acute in Japan, where it costs the country nearly 3% of GDP, research organization Rand says.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

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Health and Healthcare SystemsWellbeing and Mental Health
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