What type of sleeper are you? Scientists have identified 16 categories

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Charlotte Edmond, Senior Writer, Formative Content


  • Environmental and genetic influences combine to dictate which type of sleeper you are.
  • Scientists have grouped sleepers into 16 types after studying activity tracker data for over 100,000 people.
  • Poor sleep is linked with a number of poor health outcomes.
  • It also has a negative impact on the economy.

It’s not just noisy neighbours, screaming babies or a love of nightclubs that determine whether you are an early bird or a night owl – genetics play an important role too. It’s the combination of these environmental and inherited characteristics that creates great diversity in our sleeping patterns.

Using data collected from fitness trackers, scientists have identified 16 categories of sleepers. This information could contribute to our understanding of common sleep problems such as insomnia.

What is the World Economic Forum doing about mental health?

One in four people will experience mental illness in their lives, costing the global economy an estimated $6 trillion by 2030.

Mental ill-health is the leading cause of disability and poor life outcomes in young people aged 10–24 years, contributing up to 45% of the overall burden of disease in this age-group. Yet globally, young people have the worst access to youth mental health care within the lifespan and across all the stages of illness (particularly during the early stages).

In response, the Forum has launched a global dialogue series to discuss the ideas, tools and architecture in which public and private stakeholders can build an ecosystem for health promotion and disease management on mental health.

One of the current key priorities is to support global efforts toward mental health outcomes – promoting key recommendations toward achieving the global targets on mental health, such as the WHO Knowledge-Action-Portal and the Countdown Global Mental Health

Read more about the work of our Platform for Shaping the Future of Health and Healthcare, and contact us to get involved.

The sleep landscape

The researchers grouped people ranging from those who sleep all the way through the night and don’t nap in the day, to others who suffer significant periods of wakefulness during the night.

The data was drawn from measurements of wrist movements for more than 100,000 sleepers taken from the UK Biobank, creating what the researchers term a “real-world sleep landscape”.

Seven types of insomnia were classified, which the scientists believe offers significant insights. For example, insomnia with short sleep duration has been associated with impaired neurocognitive functioning, while insomnia with average sleep duration has been linked with anxious-ruminative profiles.

The impact of shift work

The activity trackers also showed how the sleep patterns of shift workers are affected by switching working hours. Often their circadian rhythms – the natural process which regulates the sleep-wake cycle – are out of sync with their sleep schedule, which leads to shorter, less good-quality sleep.

The researchers note how better understanding the impact of daytime sleep and nighttime periods spent awake could help support the health of shift workers.

Struggling to sleep? You’re not alone

Most adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep a night, but plenty of us get far fewer than that. Statistics from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), for example, suggest that nearly a third of adults report sleeping less than seven hours a night.

Insomnia is common, with various studies putting the rate among the adult population at somewhere between 10% and 30%. And this lack of sleep has an impact on overall health. Studies have linked sleep deprivation with cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity and mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, among other things.

Sleep deprivation also has an impact on the economy and worker productivity. The CDC has gone so far as to declare insufficient sleep a public health problem, costing the US economy an estimated $411 billion, or 2.3% of GDP. The problem is even more acute in Japan, where it costs the country nearly 3% of GDP, research organization Rand says.

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