- U.S. News & World Report’s 360 Reviews conducted a study to determine the best and worst U.S. cities for sleep.
- Air, light, and noise pollution all factored into the results.
- No matter where you live, experts share ways to enhance your sleep health.
The city you live in may have something to do with your sleep health.
To analyze which cities are best and worst for sleep, U.S. News & World Report’s 360 Reviews studied the 50 most populated U.S. cities and how well those who live there get their Zzzs.
The researchers scored each city based on a variety of factors including the following:
- Air pollution: Air quality measured by amounts of fine particulate matter of less than 2.5 micrometers that are suspended in the air for a 24-hour period (PM 2.5) by city in 2021
- Light pollution: Light pollution, adjusted for land areas within each city, measured in spectral radiance (nW/cm²/sr)
- Noise pollution: Road noise data, adjusted for land areas within each city, measured in adjusted decibels (dBA)
- Physical activity: Overall prevalence of physical activity by state, as reported by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
- Short sleep duration: Overall prevalence of short sleep duration by state, as reported by the CDC
The study ranked the following as the 10 best US cities for sleep health:
- Fort Worth
- San Diego
- Colorado Springs
- San Jose
The 10 worst US cities for sleep health named by the study were:
- New York
- Long Beach
“[Where] you live can impact your sleep for the worse or better if you let it,” Dr. Michael Gallo, sleep medicine physician at Baptist Health Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute, told Healthline. “If someone lives in a busy city with more distractions, there are more temptations to delay your bedtime. However, if you suppress these temptations, then I think your sleep will be unchanged if your bedroom environment is cool, dark, and quiet.”
He noted that high altitudes can also compromise sleep. Typically being at an altitude of at least 8,202 feet (2,500 meters) can predispose a person to central sleep apnea due to high altitude periodic breathing.
“Also, periodic breathing has been described at altitudes as low as 4,900 feet (1,500 meters),” Gallo said.
Cost of living, stress, work, and commuting may also play a part in the sleep habits of people in particular cities, said Dr. Steven Feinsilver, director of the Center for Sleep Medicine at Lenox Hill Hospital.
“I practice sleep medicine in Manhattan and New York is the city that never sleeps. I’m astounded by how little people tell me they sleep…New York is bad partly because the amount of time people commute. It’s also an expensive place to live, so a lot of people are working too hard,” he told Healthline.
Why you need quality sleep
Lack of sleep has more effect on you than leaving you feeling tired. Sleep helps the heart, brain, and other organs function properly.
“Sleep is a basic biological drive like eating and exercise; it’s something that you need to do,” said Feinsilver.
He explained the two main reasons for sleep are:
- Homeostatic sleep drive (also called sleep pressure) behaves like a toxic substance that builds up when you’re awake and reduces when you sleep. The reason you get sleepy in the evening is because toxic substance builds up during the hours you were awake.
- Circadian sleep drive is the built-in biological clock in the body that responds to things like light, which tell you it’s time to fall asleep and wake up.
“If both of those things are working well and in sync then you can sleep normally. If you try to work nights or stay up late, your circadian sleep drive and homeostatic sleep drive don’t match so perfectly,” Feinsilver said.
Ways to improve your sleep quality
If you live in a city that is among the worst cities for sleep, Feinsilver said you don’t have to move, but you can improve your sleep environment by creating a place that is cool, dark, and quiet.
Here are some ways to improve your environment and get more shuteye.
Cool off your bedroom
Humans sleep better when it’s cool, said Feinsilver.
“This may be why people don’t sleep well in Miami,” he said. “Before the days of air conditioning, people didn’t sleep well.”
If you don’t have air conditioning, running a fan or opening windows can help (though then you may have noise issues to manage).
Get blackout curtains
Feinsilver said it’s probably more important to spend money on really good dark curtains than on an expensive bed.
“I’m not sure anybody figured out which is the best bed yet, but we know humans need a dark environment to sleep,” he said.
Going to bed with a sleep eye mask to provide complete darkness is another option, said Gallo.
Soundproof your space
While canceling out noise where you live isn’t always possible, Feinsilver said to consider buying a sound machine or using an app that plays white noise.
“Noise affects you more than people might think, and while soundproofing your apartment in Manhattan might not be realistic, white noise machines can work well and block out noise,” he said.
Sleeping with noise-canceling headphones is another option.
“Alternatively, earplugs could be attempted if there is excessive noise in close proximity to the bedroom,” said Gallo.
Maintain a consistent bedtime
Aim to go to sleep and wake up at a consistent time to get 7 or more hours of sleep per night, Gallo said.
Additionally, he said it’s best to only associate the bedroom with sleep, sex, or sickness.
Use a sleep tracker
Because it’s difficult to assess your sleep, most people don’t remember the time they’re asleep and only remember the time they’re awake.
“It’s typical for bad sleepers to think they’re sleeping two or three hours a night when actually they’re sleeping a lot more,” Feinsilver said.
Using a sleep tracker can help assess and manage sleep.
“Some sleep trackers are pretty good, but may not distinguish between resting and sleeping very well. I think they’re getting better every day though and will be a great tool in the future,” said Feinsilver.
If you decide to use one, he noted that the worst thing you can do about sleep is to worry about sleep.
“There’s a bit of unintended consequence there. If you’re worried about sleep, you’ll ruin your sleep, so I don’t want to see people tracking their sleep every night and getting obsessed about it because there could be some downsides to that,” he said.
Take a nap
If you’re struggling to get sleep at night, Feinsilver said taking an afternoon nap can help you get the seven hours of sleep you need.
“Nap is generally healthy in the mid-afternoon. I’m often telling people who work nights or have bad schedules to take naps,” he said.
However, if you’re so tired during the day that you find it hard to stay awake, he said napping shouldn’t be a solution.
“In this case, I worry you have a sleep problem that needs to be addressed,” Feinsilver said.
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