Commuting Time and Sleep Study

Americans are trying to squeeze more and more into a single day. There’s work, hobbies, book clubs, exercise, family obligations, and more. Unfortunately, the more we try to cram in, the less time we give ourselves to sleep.

It’s no wonder the CDC is calling sleep deprivation a public health issue. Over one-third of Americans aren’t getting their recommended 7 hours of sleep.

According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, the biggest factor cutting into our sleep is our work. Their survey of nearly 125,000 Americans found that for every hour later work started, workers enjoyed a 20-minute increase in total sleep time. The only subset of Americans enjoying at least 7 hours of sleep were workers who started after 9am.

These findings aren’t isolated to work. Multiple studies of delaying school start times have documented similar improvements in adolescents’ sleep time when start times are delayed.

longer sleep time with later school and work times

But the time we spend at school and work is only part of the story. That doesn’t factor in the time we spend getting there.

Is it possible that not just our work, but our commute times as well, impact our sleep? We wanted to find out. So we looked at the commute times, public transit use and quality, and work start times for various cities in the U.S.

Keep reading to discover how your city’s commute times may be affecting your sleep.

Rising commute times, declining sleep times

Americans are working more than ever. The average American spends 8 hours and 8 minutes daily working and traveling to their job. That’s up five minutes from the decade before.

If you work a full 40-hour week, that consumes a quarter of your week – not including your commute time.

How long are our commutes? According to the latest US Census American Community Survey, the average American spends 26.1 minutes commuting to work, one way. That number’s only grown in the past decade:

american commute time rising

If you’re spending 26.1 minutes driving each way, five days a week, for 52 weeks of the year, that adds up to 13,572 minutes. That’s about 9 and a half days of your year, spent sitting in traffic.

It’s even worse for so-called “mega-commuters,” the people who travel 90 minutes or more, one way. Nearly 3% of Americans fall into this category, spending 3 hours of each workday traveling to work.

As our commute times have risen, our sleep times have decreased. A review of adolescent sleep between 1991 to 2012 found that adolescent sleep has decreased on the whole, and pretty consistently, with each subsequent generation:

sleep deprivation levels higher

Meanwhile, a Gallup poll found that Americans are getting a full hour less of sleep per night than we did less than a century ago:

americans are sleeping less than they used to

From a general standpoint, it appears that with longer commutes and longer work hours, comes shorter sleep. When we get a bit more granular, and compare the data by state, does the correlation hold?

Commute times and sleep by state

Every five years, the U.S. Census shares data on local commute times by state and metro. We reviewed the data from the most recent US Census American Community Survey (ACS 2012-2016) and compared it with the CDC’s 2014 data on sleep deprivation rates by state. The average American commutes for 26.1 minutes, one way, while as a nation, 35.2% of us are sleep-deprived.

Public transit availability, commute times, and sleep habits can vary from city to city. When we look at things from a state level, there is a clear, direct relationship. Longer commute times do correspond with higher levels of sleep deprivation.

Four of the most sleep-deprived states also rank in the top ten states with the longest commutes, including Hawaii, Maryland, Georgia, and New York.

Ten Most Sleep-Deprived States Ten States with the Longest Commutes
1. Hawaii (43.9%) 1. Maryland (32 min)
2. Kentucky (39.7%) 2. New York (31.6 min)
3. Maryland (38.9%) 3. New Jersey (30.4 min)
4. Alabama (38.8%) 4. Massachusetts (28 min)
5. Georgia (38.7%) 5. Illinois (28 min)
6. Michigan (38.7%) 6. Virginia (27.7 min)
7. South Carolina (38.5%) 7. California (27.2 min)
8. Indiana (38.5%) 8. Georgia (27 min)
9. New York (38.4%) 9. New Hampshire (26.3 min)
10. West Virginia (38.4%) 10. Hawaii (26 min)

The relationship is even more evident among the states with shorter commutes and lower levels of sleep deprivation. Six states (South Dakota, Nebraska, Idaho, Montana, Kansas, and Iowa) rank in the top ten for both lists.

Least Sleep-Deprived States Ten States with the Shortest Commutes
1. South Dakota (28.4%) 1. North Dakota (16.9 min)
2. Colorado (28.5%) 2. South Dakota (16.9 min)
3. Minnesota (29.2%) 3. Montana (18 min)
4. Nebraska (30.4%) 4. Nebraska (18.1 min)
5. Idaho (30.6%) 5. Wyoming (18.3 min)
6. Montana (30.7%) 6. Alaska (18.8 min)
7. Utah (30.8%) 7. Iowa (18.8 min)
8. Kansas (30.9%) 8. Kansas (19 min)
9. Iowa (31%) 9. Idaho (20 min)
10. Vermont (31%) 10. Oklahoma (21 min)

Are you wondering how your state ranks? Are your residents sleep-deprived with long commutes, or well-rested with short commutes? Review the data below, organized alphabetically by state.

State Commute Sleep Deprivation Rate
Alabama 24.2 38.8
Alaska 18.8 35
Arizona 24.6 33.3
Arkansas 21.3 37.4
California 27.2 33.6
Colorado 24.5 28.5
Connecticut 24.8 35.2
Delaware 24.8 37.6
District of Columbia 29.7 35.2
Florida 25.9 35.8
Georgia 27 38.7
Hawaii 26 43.9
Idaho 20 30.6
Illinois 28 34.4
Indiana 23.2 38.5
Iowa 18.8 31
Kansas 19 30.9
Kentucky 22.8 39.7
Louisiana 24.9 36.3
Maine 23.3 32.9
Maryland 32 38.9
Massachusetts 28 34.5
Michigan 24 38.7
Minnesota 22.9 29.2
Mississippi 23.9 37
Missouri 23.1 34
Montana 18 30.7
Nebraska 18.1 30.4
Nevada 23.8 36.2
New Hampshire 26.3 32.5
New Jersey 30.4 37.2
New Mexico 21.6 32
New York 31.6 38.4
North Carolina 23.6 32.4
North Dakota 16.9 31.8
Ohio 23 37.9
Oklahoma 21 35.7
Oregon 22.5 31.7
Pennsylvania 25.9 37.5
Rhode Island 23.6 36.7
South Carolina 23.5 38.5
South Dakota 16.9 28.4
Tennessee 24.3 37.1
Texas 25 33
Utah 21.4 30.8
Vermont 22.2 31
Virginia 27.7 36
Washington 25.7 31.8
West Virginia 25.5 38.4
Wisconsin 21.7 32.2
Wyoming 18.3 31.3

Public transit and sleep

It makes sense that commuting would affect our sleep. It’s boring, it’s frustrating, and it’s bad for your health. Studies show that people with longer commute times tend to have higher levels of blood sugar, cholesterol, depression and anxiety.

While all commuters tend to report lower levels of life satisfaction, things are even worse if you take public transit, according to a 2014 study in the U.K. People who commute by bus are the most depressed and anxious.

To look at how sleep times correlate with public transit use here in the U.S., we analyzed a public transit quality review performed by think tank The Brookings Institution. We compared their data with the CDC’s data on sleep deprivation rates for the top 500 cities in the U.S. to see how the best and worst cities for public transit lined up with the best and worst cities for sleep.

To find their winners and losers, The Brookings Institution graded each major American city on two main criteria – the amount of jobs that were accessible within a 90 minute transit commute (“coverage”), and the number of Americans who lived within 0.75 miles of a station or stop (“job access”). Essentially, they wanted to answer, how available and convenient was it to use public transit in these cities?

It’s important to note here that unfortunately, no city received a perfect rating for their public transit. Even among the best cities for public transit, there was no city with public transit accessible to 100% of its residents, and the highest percentage of jobs reachable within 90 minutes was 59.8%.

When it comes to sleep, no city is perfect as well. The national average sleep deprivation rate across the U.S. is 35.2%. Unfortunately, that means that on average, over a third of Americans are getting fewer than 7 hours of sleep each night.

Let’s see how these cities stack up when it comes to sleep.

Best cities for public transit

All but one (Honolulu) of the best cities for public transit boast lower-than-average sleep deprivation rates.

City Public Transit Coverage % Job Access % Sleep Deprivation Rate
1. Honolulu, HI 97% 59.8% 48% (way above average)
2. San Jose, CA 95.6% 60% 34.6% (below average)
3. Salt Lake City, UT 90% 58.9% 32% (below average)
4. Tucson, AZ 73.1% 58.2% 34.8% (below average)
5. Fresno, CA 71.5% 57% 32.9% (below average)

1. Honolulu, HI

Honolulu secured the number-one spot with 97% coverage and just under 60% of jobs being reachable by public transit. The main transit option here is a bus system, with a rail transit project underway.

Despite it winning the best city for public transit, Honolulu actually claims one of the very worst sleep deprivation rates in the entire country, at 48%. Plus, the average commute time is above average, at 28.7 minutes one way.

2. San Jose, CA

The San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara metro area boasts an impressive 95.6% coverage and one of the shortest rush hour wait times in the country, at just 6.9 minutes. However, less than 60% of the jobs are reachable by that transit within 90 minutes, and the area’s average commute time is above average, at 27.3 minutes each way.

Fortunately, their sleep deprivation rate is just below average, at 34.6%.

3. Salt Lake City, UT

Nearly 90% of residents in the capital city of Utah live near a public transit stop, and 58.9% of the jobs are reachable within 90 minutes. Wait time at rush hour is only 8.5 minutes, and the average commute time is only 22.5 minutes.

Salt Lake City also scores well on sleep deprivation. At 32%, fewer than a third of its residents are getting less than their recommended amount of sleep.

4. Tucson, AZ

In Tucson, 73.1% of residents live near a transit stop, and 58.2% of the jobs are reachable within 90 minutes. Tucson also boasts short wait times, at 9.2 minutes during rush hour.

Tucson also claims lower than average overall sleep deprivation rates (34.8%) and commute times (24.4 minutes).

5. Fresno, CA

Fresno comes in fifth place, with 71.5% of residents living near a transit stop, and 57% of jobs reachable within 90 minutes of public transit. The average wait at rush hour is just under 11 minutes.

Despite its transit offerings, only 1.3% of Fresno residents actually use it. That may be because they don’t need to, though, since their average commute is just over 22 minutes. Fresno residents are less-sleep deprived as well, at only 32.9%.

Worst cities for public transit

All of the worst cities for public transit rates have high sleep deprivation rates – ranging from over 4 to 10 percentage points higher than the national average.

City Public Transit Coverage % Job Access % Sleep Deprivation Rate
1. Palm Bay, FL 64.1% 7.4% 39.5% (above average)
2. Knoxville, TN 28% 25% 39% (above average)
3. Augusta, GA 30.2% 16.4% 44.1% (way above average)
4. Youngstown, OH 36.3% 14.2% 46% (way above average)
5. Riverside, CA 77.3% 8% 38% (above average)

1. Palm Bay/Melbourne, FL

The Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville area only has 64.1% coverage, and just 7.4% of jobs are reachable using that transit. As a result, commuters often have to wait 38.4 minutes during rush hour just to board.

No surprise, here: their residents are more sleep-deprived than the average American. Sleep deprivation rates range between 37.8% in Melbourne to 39.5% in Palm Bay.

2. Knoxville, TN

Knoxville residents wait a reasonable 18.3 minutes during rush hour to board public transit. But that public transit is only accessible to 28% of residents, and it will only help them reach a quarter of the jobs.

According to the U.S. Census, just half a percent of Knoxville residents use the transit. The rest drive 23.4 minutes to work. The commutes here are lower than average, but the sleep deprivation rates are not: 39% of Knoxville residents aren’t getting enough sleep.

3. Augusta, GA

Only 30.2% of Augusta residents can reach a transit stop, and just 16.4% of jobs are reachable. The average rush hour wait time is 27.9 minutes.

Augusta also has one of the highest sleep deprivation rates in the country, at 44.1%.

4. Youngstown, OH

Residents in the Youngstown, OH-Warren, PA metro area can expect to wait 27 minutes during rush hour. The area’s public transit only reaches about 36.3% of residents, and 14.2% of jobs.

These cities are seriously sleep-deprived, too. A full 46% of Youngstown residents aren’t getting sufficient sleep on a regular basis.

5. Riverside, CA

The public transit in the Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario area reaches 77.3% of residents. This is decent coverage, but here’s the rub: fewer than 8% of these residents’ jobs are reachable by this public transit. The relatively short rush hour wait time of 16.3 minutes won’t do them much good.

At 38%, 39.9%, and 37.5%, respectively, residents in each of these cities are more sleep-deprived than average, as well.

Poor public transit, poor sleep: Correlation or causation?

With the exception of Honolulu, there does appear to be a strong correlation between the quality of public transit and a city’s level of sleep deprivation:

  • With better transit options, availability, and shorter commutes, people tend to get more sleep.
  • When the scenario is reversed, with less accessible public transit and longer commutes, we also tend to see higher levels of sleep deprivation.

What’s more, the relationship appears stronger when we look at cities with poor transit options. While the cities with good transit will have just lower-than-average sleep deprivation levels, the cities with poor transit also claim some of the worst sleep deprivation rates in the country.

Commute time, work starting time, and sleep

Your commute time isn’t the only thing dictating whether you get to sleep in or not. For most of us, it’s a combination of our commute time, rush hour traffic, and when our boss expects us to  arrive at work.

Is there a relationship between the median arrival times for American workers, and their city’s sleep deprivation rate? The data says maybe.

The average arrival time to work for Americans is 7:55am. We ranked the earliest-rising and latest-rising major U.S. cities and compared their commute times against their sleep deprivation rates.

Looking at the average sleep deprivation rate and commute times across these cities, it does appear that earlier-rising cities are spending less time asleep. Their commute times are shorter, but residents seem to spend that extra morning time getting to work earlier, rather sleeping in.

Earliest-Rising Cities

Median Work Arrival Time Average Sleep Deprivation Rate Average Commute Time
1. Jacksonville, NC (7:14 AM)

38.17%

(3 percentage points above national average)

22.38 minutes

(about 4 minutes shorter than the national average)

2. Clarksville, TN (7:20 AM)
3. Killeen, TX (7:23 AM)
4. Bakersfield, CA (7:27 AM)
5. Honolulu, HI (7:29 AM)
6. Lake Charles, LA (7:29 AM)
7. Yuma, AZ (7:29 AM)
8. Fayetteville, NC (7:30 AM)
9. Beaumont, TX (7:30 AM)
10. Kennewick, WA (7:30 AM)

Looking at the cities who with the latest work arrival times, their sleep deprivation rates are lower than the national average, even though their commute times are stronger. However, the differences and gains in sleep aren’t as distinct.

Latest-Rising Cities

Median Work Arrival Time Average Sleep Deprivation Rate Average Commute Time
1. New York, NY (8:24 AM)

34.55%

(about half a percentage point below the national average)

27.26 minutes

(about 1 minute longer than the national average)

2. San Jose, CA (8:21 AM)
3. San Francisco, CA (8:17 AM)
4. Provo, UT (8:15 AM)
5. Ann Arbor, MI (8:15 AM)
6. Lawrence, KS (8:15 AM)
7. Trenton, NJ (8:14 AM)
8. Miami, FL (8:14 AM)
9. Boston, MA (8:11 AM)
10. Boulder, CO (8:11 AM)

Overall, the data seems to suggest that when we can get away with a shorter commute, w

Overall, the data seems to suggest that when we can get away with a shorter commute, we’ll let our workplace reap the benefits, instead of our sleep.

Conclusions

Are our commutes truly eating into our sleep? Whichever way you look at it, the data seems to suggest yes.

  • Commute times have risen fairly steadily in the past 25 years. Mimicking that rise are both longer work hours, and higher levels of sleep deprivation.
  • The states with the highest levels of sleep deprivation tend to have longer commutes as well. Likewise, when states have shorter commutes, they also tend to have lower levels of sleep deprivation.
  • Cities with the worst public transit systems have significantly higher-than-average levels of sleep deprivation, while cities with better public transit systems tend to have lower-than-average levels of sleep deprivation.
  • There is also a relationship between work start times and sleep. Cities with earlier work start times tend to have higher sleep deprivation rates, while cities with later start times have lower sleep deprivation rates, albeit to a lesser extent.

Overall, workers seem to forego sleep to make time for their commutes or to arrive at work on time. It seems that both longer commutes and early start times cut into people’s sleep, which is why researchers and policy groups are advocating for later work start times. The more we can educate people on the importance of sleep for their overall health and productivity, and encourage businesses to respond with later work times, the better things will be – for us as individuals and for the economy as a whole.

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