Home     About       Contact

Tennessee Is Tragically Sleep Deprived, Study Shows

by Jimmy Leonard | Updated 28 Mar 2024

Sueño Labs does not provide medical advice. See our terms and disclaimers.

Smoky Mountains sleep deprived in Tennessee
Photo by Delaney Van on Unsplash

If you’re reading this from Tennessee, you should probably stop now and go to bed. Why? The Volunteer State recently ranked as one of the most sleep-deprived places in America. Sueño Labs is based in Knoxville, so of course we needed to get to the bottom of this. Crisis on the homefront, y’all.

A whopping 41.9% of Tennesseans sleep less than seven hours per night. This makes Tennessee the third-most sleep-deprived state in America in a review of CDC data, ranking only behind West Virginia and Kentucky. The geographically inclined may notice that Appalachia seems unfairly singled out here, especially as Ohio, Alabama, Georgia, and Pennslyvania are also in the top ten.

So what’s going on? We unpacked the findings in light of employment, infrastructure, and healthcare. Here’s what we found.

Why Appalachian States Are Sleep Deprived

Sleepless in Rural Appalachia

Incidentally, that was the original title of the classic Tom Hanks-Meg Ryan romcom, but “Seattle” just had a better ring to it. In any case, this isn’t the first time that demographers have noticed the troubling sleepless trend in Appalachian states. While poor sleep is a commonly reported medical condition in rural areas, it’s often a symptom of chronic, underlying health conditions. Pain, high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, and anxiety could all be contributing factors.

Many clinicians have connected the dots between these health conditions and environmental stressors. These may include the social realities of long work hours at physically demanding jobs and the side effects of substance abuse disproportionately impacting lower income brackets.

Low-Income Employment

Studies show that people experiencing poverty have shorter and worse quality sleep than their wealthier peers. It’s a multifaceted issue, with contributing factors including:

  • Needing to work overtime or multiple jobs just to pay the bills
  • Feeling more stressed due to financial insecurity
  • Dealing with more health concerns due to worse nutrition and less frequent access to specialized medical care

When ranking states by median household income, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee are all in the bottom ten per U.S. News & World Report. That said, median income can be a tricky statistic in isolation — relative cost of living and other factors such as food security and access to health care contribute to the experience of poverty. In some metrics, such as the average cost of home ownership, these states are ahead of others on the low-income list. But the type of work matters.

While the number of households in poverty in Appalachia has decreased in recent years, the region’s median income is still only about 85% of the U.S. median household income. In a region known for mining, manufacturing, forestry, agriculture, and other labor-intensive jobs, people are more likely to work long hours at physically demanding jobs than in other parts of the nation. A heavy bodily toll can mess with sleep patterns as chronic pain often leads to frequent waking and sleep deficiencies

Infrastructure and Long Commutes

But wait, thinks the astute reader, isn’t there poverty everywhere? Why are these states singled out?

Somebody has to be the worst, right? But rural poverty has a different set of challenges than urban poverty, and underserved groups in Appalachia are largely rural.

  • Contrary to our perception of the pristine countryside, rural communities are more likely to experience drinking water violations than their urban counterparts. West Virginia counties are among the worst in the nation.
  • Rural areas have little or no access to reliable public transit. Winding, mountainous backroads are often poorly maintained and frequently have low visibility in bad weather conditions.
  • Having fewer economic opportunities means people are more likely to commute. An estimated 31% of Appalachians work in a county other than the one where they live, higher than the national average of 26%.
  • Disabilities are more common in rural areas, often in combination with a farther drive to healthcare facilities and a higher probability of inaccessible housing.

Put it together and you’ve got underlying health issues mixed with long workdays and lots of driving to get anywhere. There’s not always time for a solid eight hours of rest.

The Impacts

Sleep deprivation is a chronic health condition, resulting in a weakened immune system, poor decision-making, irritability, and a higher risk of other physical health conditions including high blood pressure and heart disease. Long-term sleep deficiencies are also linked to memory loss and dementia.

It’s hard to estimate the economic impact of lower productivity and more mistakes at work, more sick days, and worse problem-solving skills, but researchers usually put it in the billions of dollars lost nationwide each year.

There’s also a high correlation between sleep disorders and opioid use, as sleep loss exacerbates chronic pain which can easily feed into an opioid dependency, which can in turn make the sleep loss even worse. Substance abuse disproportionately affects the Appalachian region, so there’s already quite a bit of evidence that these factors are linked.

Put it all together, and “most sleep-deprived states in America” is not a list that Tennessee wants to be on.

What Can We Do?

Wave a magic wand to create more economic opportunities and greater access to healthcare in impoverished rural communities? Bring in a bunch of robots to do the back-breaking manual labor jobs at twice the speed with zero injuries to humans and somehow have that not affect anyone’s livelihood? Pop a few melatonin and go to bed at 9 pm?

Clearly, there’s not a quick fix here. At an individual level, it’s important to evaluate your own sleep hygiene and see if there are some unhealthy habits you can remove. Especially if you live in Tennessee or another state topping the sleep-deprived list, keep in mind that you may not have a properly normalized baseline. In other words, if almost everyone you know works two jobs and sleeps less than six hours per night, your concept of “normal sleep” might be skewed. The CDC consistently recommends 7-8 hours of good-quality sleep each night, not just 7 hours of lying in bed while doom-scrolling on your phone or watching TV.

Education is also important, especially for the younger generation. If you have kids or are in a position to impact kids, look for ways to teach healthy sleep habits. Have conversations around the benefits of getting enough rest, model turning off screens before bed, and add interest by talking to your kids about their dreams.

Yes, any time there’s a ranking of all 50 states, somebody will have to be the worst. But Tennessee, Kentucky, and West Virginia? Maybe next year, let’s give someone else a turn.

Discover More

Jimmy Leonard

Jimmy Leonard

Jimmy is a marketing content strategist and copywriter who moonlights as the editor of Sueño Labs. He is a proud resident of East Tennessee, a region rich in natural beauty and cultural history, even if the people don't always get enough sleep.

© 2024 Sueño Labs                 Contact                 Sitemap                  Terms and Disclaimers

This website is hosted by SiteGround. It’s amazing. Use our referral link to save on a super-fast hosting plan.