Sleep Schedule, From the Inconsistent Teenage Years to Retirement

I made a chart a while back that was mostly subjective, anecdotal, and not based on real data to show changing sleep patterns as we get older:

This chart is not based on real data.

There’s real data to analyze our changing sleep patterns though. After looking at sleeplessness, I came back to our old friend that is the American Time Use Survey. I grabbed data for the past five years and plotted the percentage of people who are asleep and awake, over age and time of day. An area is colored yellow if 50 percent or more people were awake. Otherwise, the area is magenta.

One caveat when comparing to the original mock chart: there is only data for those 15 and older. The chart below starts then.

When the Majority Sleeps, by Age

Sleep looks pretty consistent, once we age past the early years.

12p

MORE PEOPLE AWAKE

6p

Who needs to sleep early when you’re busy being young?

12a

MORE PEOPLE ASLEEP

6a

Welcome to adulthood.

Retirement. Sleep in. You earned it.

What’s sunrise?

12p

15

20

25

30

35

40

45

50

55

60

65

70

75

80+

YEARS OLD

SOURCE: AMERICAN TIME USE SURVEY

12p

MORE PEOPLE AWAKE

6p

Who needs to sleep early when you’re busy being young?

12a

MORE PEOPLE ASLEEP

6a

Adulthood…

Retirement. Sleep in. You earned it.

What’s sunrise?

12p

15

25

35

45

55

65

80+

YEARS OLD

SOURCE: AMERICAN TIME USE SURVEY

It’s not as dramatic as the mock chart, but you can see subtle dips and rises with, especially around college age and post-retirement.

However, the binary color scheme limits the detail, and there’s of course a good amount of variation in how people sleep. So here’s a wider color scale:

When People Sleep, by Age

Looking at a gradient, we see a more detailed picture of sleep schedules. Although it’s still not as dramatic as my mock chart.

PERCENTAGE OF PEOPLE ASLEEP

0%

20%

40%

60%

80%

100%

Noon

6p

MEDIAN SLEEP TIME

Midnight

Less consistent sleep schedule during the earlier years.

Sleep is more consistent among older people.

6a

MEDIAN WAKEUP TIME

Appreciating the luxury of sleeping in.

Noon

15

20

25

30

35

40

45

50

55

60

65

70

75

80+

YEARS OLD

SOURCE: AMERICAN TIME USE SURVEY

PERCENTAGE OF PEOPLE ASLEEP

0%

20%

40%

60%

80%

100%

12p

6p

MEDIAN SLEEP TIME

Less consistent sleep schedule during the early years.

12a

Sleep is more consistent among older people.

6a

MEDIAN WAKEUP TIME

Appreciating the luxury of sleeping in.

12p

15

25

35

45

55

65

80+

YEARS OLD

SOURCE: AMERICAN TIME USE SURVEY

I was surprised to see the wider bands in the later years, which seem to suggest a more consistent sleeping schedule and later wakeup times. Although I’m not totally convinced yet. Maybe I need to look at napping during the day.

Notes

The data comes from the American Time Use Survey, 2014-2018. I downloaded the data via IPUMS.

Activity data with ATUS is hierarchical. There’s a main category for sleeping, but it can be further classified as sleeping, sleeplessness, and sleeping not elsewhere classified. The calculations above only use the sleeping subcategory i.e does not include sleeplessness or sleeping n.e.c.

I made the charts in R.

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