Sleep Disorders on the Rise in ItalyA STUDY PUBLISHED IN SCIENTIFIC REPORTS, COAUTHORED BY NIROSHA VARGHESE AND SIMONE GHISLANDI, STATES THAT ONE IN THREE PEOPLE SLEEP TOO SHORT HOURS AND ONE IN SEVEN IS DISSATISFIED WITH THE QUALITY OF THEIR SLEEP. LOW EDUCATION AND LOW INCOME EXACERBATE THE PROBLEM
Almost one Italian in three sleeps an insufficient number of hours and one in seven reports an unsatisfactory quality of their sleep. Sleep disorders in Italy appear to be on the rise and are more frequent among the elderly and those with a lower socio-economic level. These are the main results of a study conducted in 2019 and just published in Scientific Reports, a Nature open access journal, by researchers from the Bocconi Center for Research on Health and Social Care Management (CERGAS), Istituto Superiore di Sanità (ISS), and Istituto di Ricerche Farmacologiche Mario Negri, in collaboration with Doxa Institute.
In February and March 2019, a representative sample of the Italian population (3,120 people aged 15 years and over) was interviewed on the quantity and quality of their sleep through a questionnaire. In the study, insufficient sleep is defined as a sleep of 6 hours or less. Unsatisfactory sleep is, instead, sleep deemed qualitatively low or very low by the interviewees.
The average number of hours of sleep reported is about 7 per night, but 30% of respondents sleep an insufficient number of hours. The percentage of respondents who rated their sleep as unsatisfactory is 14%. Among these, women outnumber men, while there is no gender difference in the amount of sleep. As age increases, both sleep deficiency and sleep dissatisfaction increase. “There is also an important socio-economic gradient of sleep: a low level of education and low income are associated with increased sleep problems," says Nirosha Varghese, a PhD student in Public Policy and Administration at Bocconi and the first author of the study. Those who smoke, finally, are more likely to sleep an insufficient number of hours compared to those who have never smoked and those who have stopped smoking.
“Good sleep is fundamental for a good quality of life,” says Roberta Pacifici, Director of the National Addiction and Doping Center at ISS, who explains: “Insufficient sleep affects physical health, mental health and even mortality. It is therefore important to be able to rely on epidemiological information on the prevalence of sleep quantity and quality problems.”
“The most interesting results have been observed entering the homes of Italian families,” says Simone Ghislandi of Bocconi. “In addition to the expected, and for many reassuring, association between marriage and sleep, confirmed by the fact that married couples sleep better, the study shows an unexpected inverse relationship between living with children under 14 years of age and having sleep problems. Part of the explanation for this phenomenon,” continues Ghislandi, “may lie in the adaptation effect, which would lead parents, over time, to adapt to the lower quality and quantity of sleep, typically associated with the experience of the first months of the child's life.”
“When compared with similar studies conducted in the past in Italy,” says Silvano Gallus, epidemiologist at the Mario Negri Institute in Milan, “the results give us a picture of a growing trend of sleep disorders in Italy. This is a fact to reflect on, also in light of the high prevalence recorded in terms of sleep deficiency compared to other Western countries, such as Finland and Australia.”
“In addition,” concludes Gallus, “these issues related to the quantity and quality of sleep were also investigated in another project, the LOST IN ITALY study, aimed at assessing the impact of the COVID lockdown on the lifestyles of Italians. Preliminary results show a substantial growth in sleep-related disorders in Italy at that time. In fact, Italians who report insufficient sleep increased by 22% and those who report unsatisfactory sleep quality more than doubled (+128%).” It will be important to continue to monitor the epidemiological situation of sleep and its evolution over time. Sleep is in fact a fundamental indicator of health that deserves to be the subject of health policies for citizens and workers.
Varghese NE, Lugo A, Ghislandi S, Colombo P, Pacifici R, Gallus S, “Sleep Dissatisfaction and Insufficient Sleep duration in the Italian Population,” in Scientific Reports, 21 October 2020.
by Ezio Renda