Which age group struggles the most with sleeping? It's young adults, a new study says

More than one in four adults ages 18 to 24 experience insomnia every night; it’s the highest rate of insomnia out of any age group in the U.S., according to a recent survey from Norwegian health and wellness publication Helsestart.

The company conducted a Google survey among 2,000 U.S. adults age 18 and up, asking respondents how often they struggle to fall asleep, as well as their genders and their ages.

Half of respondents said they experience insomnia at least once a month, while nearly a quarter said they struggle to fall asleep every night.

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People often use the term “insomnia” in different ways, said Dr. Ronald Chervin, a neurology professor and division chief in the Sleep Disorders Centers at the University of Michigan who was not affiliated with the survey.

“When a lot of people talk about insomnia, they’re talking about the symptom; the symptom means having trouble falling asleep, having trouble with waking up during the night, having trouble going back to sleep if you wake up, or early morning awakenings,” he told USA TODAY.

Those experiences can be considered insomnia symptoms, but there are multiple disorders associated with sleep as well, including chronic insomnia and acute insomnia disorder.

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Martin Hareid, co-founder of Helsestart, said when the company began looking into insomnia for its survey, they saw many “outdated” publications that also focused on people already diagnosed with insomnia and receiving treatment.

He said one of the organization’s goals was to get a realistic picture of the population amid the COVID-19 pandemic. This is the group’s first time doing a survey like this one.

The team surveyed 2,000 adults, categorized respondents into age groups and grouped respondents into four regions of the U.S.: Midwest, Northeast, South and West.

Check out the results below.

Key findings:

  • 50% of U.S. adults say they experience insomnia once a month or more.
  • 43% of adults in the U.S. say they do not experience insomnia. 
  • 36% of U.S. adults say they struggle to fall asleep at least once a week.
  • 22% of adults in the U.S. say they struggle to fall asleep every night.

Results by age group:

  • 29% of 18 to 24-year-olds say they experience insomnia every night.
  • 17% of adults over 65 say they experience insomnia every night, making it the least likely age group to suffer from nightly insomnia, per the study.
  • Adults above the age of 65 are most likely to suffer from insomnia on an infrequent basis, with 9% saying they experience it once a month or less.

Results by region:

  • The Midwest is the least likely region to experience insomnia every night, with 19% saying they struggle to fall asleep nightly; that’s 3% under the U.S. average.
  • Additionally, 49% of people in the Midwest said they never have trouble sleeping, the highest portion of the four regions.
  • 59% of adults in the Western part of the U.S. suffer from insomnia at some point or another, the highest percentage of the four regions.
  • 24% of adults in the South said they struggle to fall asleep every night, the highest percentage of the four regions.
  • 23% of people in the Northeast said they struggle to fall asleep every night.

Hareid thinks one of the most interesting finds is that young adults ages 18-24 struggle with nightly insomnia the most.

Existing research says older generations have been most affected by insomnia, he said, not young adults.

Suffer from insomnia? Set a bedtime routine

Erica Jansen is an epidemiologist at the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health and has done research on insomnia factors and other sleep difficulties in young adults.

“We see that (insomnia) is higher than other populations,” Jansen told USA TODAY. “In general, the young adult period is a time of a lot of transition in life, and a lot of uncertainty. We know that mental health issues are highly related to insomnia, and periods of uncertainty are also highly-related to insomnia.”

She said it’s best for people to establish good bedtime routines and make sure bedtimes and wake times are the same every day.

She also said if people haven’t fallen asleep within 20 to 30 minutes, she encourages people to get up and do something like reading, meditating or something very restful; but they should make sure they do these activities outside of bed so they aren’t associating anxiety and sleeplessness with their beds.

It’s ‘a good picture’ of sleep habits but not peer-reviewed

While Hareid said this “gives a good picture of the situation now in the United States,” it’s also important to know the data wasn’t peer reviewed.

Dr. Chervin from the University of Michigan, also pointed out that the researchers didn’t include confidence intervals – the ranges of margins of error that are normally seen with samples.

A spokesperson for the project’s marketing company said Google balances survey sample demographics to match the demographics of the target population, or in this case, people 18 and up in the U.S.

To get demographic data to use as a marker, Google used a combination of government data and internal Google data sources. They also applied weighting to more closely match the demographics of the target online population.

Saleen Martin is a reporter on USA TODAY’s NOW team. She is from Norfolk, Virginia – the 757 – and loves all things horror, witches, Christmas, and food. Follow her on Twitter at @Saleen_Martin or email her at sdmartin@usatoday.com.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Which age group struggles the most with sleeping? It’s young adults, a new study says

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