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Freakonomics Radio

The economics…. of sleep?

Molly Wood Jul 16, 2015
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There are a lot of health implications to how well you sleep – and you could also imagine that sleep has a lot to do with how well you work, and how much money you make.

But getting accurate and effective data on how much people sleep is difficult. Traditionally, a lot of sleep data came from surveys. But the data is slightly better these days – with the help of technology.

“Americans sleep on average between eight and nine hours a night,” says Stephen Dubner of Freakonomics Radio. “Women sleep about eight minutes more per night than men. And single people sleep about eight minutes more per night than married people.”

Economists Matthew Gibson and Jeffrey Shrader ran a sleep experiment to see how sleep affects wages.

“It turns out that ever since we’ve put time zones into place, we’ve basically been running just that sort of giant experiment on everyone in America,” Gibson says.

Gibson and Shrader looked at similar populations that lie at opposite ends of time zones.

“So a city like Huntsville, Alabama, on the eastern edge of the Central Time Zone, and Amarillo, Texas, on the western edge,” Dubner explains. “Even though cities like this are on the same clock, the western city gets roughly an hour more of sunlight – which means that people there tend to go to bed later. But they have to wake up the same time as people in the eastern city – so, on average, they get less sleep.”

Gibson and Shrader looked at the wage data in places like this, to see how an extra dose of sleep affects wages, and found that permanently increasing sleep by an hour per week for everybody in a city, increases the wages in that location by about 4.5 percent.

“It’s not like I’m the first to say it: ‘Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise,'” Dubner says .

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