Wednesday, March 9, 2005

Although our cities supposedly never sleep and our suburbs are abuzz 24/7, Americans are not the biggest night owls on the planet.

That dubious honor belongs to the Portuguese. Three-quarters of them don’t settle down until after midnight, at least according to a new 28-country survey by AC Nielsen, the marketing arm of TV ratings giant Nielsen Media Research.

The folks in Taiwan are almost as bad: 69 percent are still up after midnight, followed by South Koreans (68 percent), Hong Kong residents (66 percent), Spanish (65 percent), Japanese (60 percent), Singapore residents and Malaysians (tied at 54 percent), Thais (43 percent) and finally the Italians at 39 percent.

But cultural influences come into play. The survey also found that more than a quarter of the Taiwanese don’t roll out of bed until after 9 a.m.

And although the Portuguese, Spanish and Italians may be late-night fans, the Mediterranean countries are also known for “midday siestas,” the researchers observed.

Americans fall into the middle: Only a third of us crawl into bed after midnight, and 60 percent of us are up by 7 a.m.

The poll of 14,100 adults in Asia, Europe and the United States was conducted through personal interviews and the Internet last October. The results were released March 1.

“The luxury of a solid, eight-hour sleep or an early night are long gone,” Nielsen spokesman Lennart Bengston said.

Such findings are confirmed on U.S. shores.

Before Thomas Edison invented the light bulb in 1879, Americans slept an average of 10 hours a night. Now they’re down to 6.9 hours on weeknights and 7.5 hours on weekends, according to the District-based National Sleep Foundation (NSF).

About 126 million Americans suffer from insomnia, so many that the NSF has declared March 30 Insomnia Awareness Day to publicize the fact.

“Symptoms are too important to ignore,” spokesman Richard Gelula said.

But sleep research is subject to interpretation.

University of California, San Diego psychiatrist Daniel Kripke suspects Americans sleep too much. In research last year, he found that those who sleep less than seven hours a night live longer.

But Stanford University researchers linked sleep deprivation to slowed recovery in cancer patients last year.

Meanwhile, Nielsen plumbed the waking habits of the world’s sleepers as well.

The Indonesians, apparently, can’t wait to barrel out of bed in the morning: 91 percent are up before 7 a.m. Vietnamese are in second place, with 88 percent, followed by Filipinos at 69 percent.

After comparing complexities of rising and retiring times, the researchers found that the Japanese were the most sleep-deprived of all, with 41 percent getting six hours or less of shut-eye each night.

The biggest snoozers on Earth? The Australians, with 31 percent of them catching nine hours or more of sleep each night.

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