Well, maybe not all of their time. But more than a third of it: According to the latest American Time Use Survey, released Thursday by the Labor Department, the average American aged 15 or older on average spent 8 hours and 44 minutes sleeping. This is infinitely more shocking than whatever those partners in leaks, Glenn Greenwald and Edward Snowden, plan to reveal next.
Who are these mysterious people? Do I live or work or drink with them? Probably not—because they're sleeping right now, or shopping (43 minutes per day!), doing stuff around the house (1 hour, 44 minutes), engaging in leisure or exercise (2 hours, 32 minutes), or watching TV (which, though a leisurely activity, gets its own category: 2 hours, 50 minutes). Sounds like a wonderful life, actually, that these average Americans have.
The Wall Street Journal was less shocked, apparently, by the sleep statistic. Their headline: "Americans Worked Less, Watched More TV in 2012." Doesn't it stand to reason that we'd spend more time watching TV if we're working less hours? How about this for a headline instead: "Americans Slept Twice as Much as They Worked in 2012." Or whatever I put atop this post.
To be fair, our average hours of sleep is not news in the conventional sense—because it is not, in fact, new. The 2011 survey found that the average American spent 8 hours and 43 minutes sleeping. So we've only gained a minute per day. And if this chart from the 2011 survey is any indication, the young and old are skewing the data by sleeping more than 9 hours a day. Still, Americans between 25 and 64 years old are getting more than 8 hours of sleep (the women slightly more than men, for whatever reason).
I am not here to criticize. It is well known, thanks to education crusades by the likes of Arianna Huffington and Dr. Oz, that sleep is good for us. I think we all knew this already, because sleep feels so damn good and because, you know, it makes us feel less tired. Still, how nice to have our biological instincts confirmed by famous people! As for how much sleep is good for us, though, the National Sleep Foundation ("Waking America to the Importance of Sleep®") states that "studies suggest that healthy adults have a basal sleep need of seven to eight hours every night."
Aware of this, I frequently try to get eight hours of sleep. I even give myself 15 minutes to wind down, as the experts suggest; a back-of-the-book magazine article is ideal. But the moment I turn off the lights, I begin to stress out about the importance of getting eight hours of sleep. Each waking minute is another minute of lost sleep. The more minutes that pass, the more stressed out it makes me, and the less sleep I get. Eventually I fall asleep, but it's hard to know how many hours I get, as checking the clock while being sleepless would only make me more sleepless.
If you have the same problem, read this post right before bedtime. That should do the trick.
Ryan Kearney is a story editor at The New Republic.