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Poll: Americans losing sleep over finances

Two out of three people say sleep affected by financial worries

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More than two out of three Americans are losing sleep worrying about their finances in the tough economy, including more than one in five who report tossing and turning at night because of credit card bills, according to a new CreditCards.com poll.

What's troubling your sleep?

Nearly 69 percent of respondents say worries about financial matters occasionally keep them awake at night. Saving enough money for retirement and the ability to pay for health care or insurance bills are the reasons cited most often for sleep loss.

Is debt keeping you awake? Our new poll says yes.

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Restless nights and insomnia due to financial troubles are an occasional problem for 69 percent of Americans, according to the scientific telephone poll of 1,004 Americans fielded by GfK Roper. That number's up significantly from the 56 percent who reported losing sleep over finances in March 2007, well before the current recession.

Finance and sleep experts say the results aren't surprising given the U.S. economy and job losses, mortgage crisis and credit crunch gripping the nation. Millions of credit cardholders have seen interest rates jacked up, fees increased or minimum payment amounts hiked in recent weeks. Personal bankruptcy filings are also rising in the wake of the financial crisis.

"If people can't pay their bills and they're having financial problems, they worry and they go to bed and they can't fall asleep," says Dr. Meir Kryger, director of research and education at Gaylord Sleep Services in Wallingford, Conn., and author of the book, "A Good Night's Sleep." "It's a very significant added stress."

Poll results
The poll, conducted June 26-28, 2009, on behalf of CreditCards.com by GfK Roper, a division of GfK Custom Research North America, contacted 1,004 adults through random-digit dialing. The survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. (See poll methodology.)

Survey participants were given a list of items and asked to identify which were causing occasional bouts of sleeplessness. Their responses (in order of sleep deprivation):

  • Saving enough money for retirement (40 percent).
  • Health care or insurance bills (35 percent).
  • Ability to pay mortgage and monthly rent bills (28 percent).
  • Ability to pay your own or someone else's educational expenses (27 percent).
  • Ability to pay credit card debt (23 percent).

Nearly a third of the respondents (31 percent) are apparently sleeping soundly at least where finances are concerned. They said none of those financial matters caused them to lose sleep.

Sleep loss a sign of the economic times
There's no doubt the financial crisis and recession have affected Americans' sleep patterns. Sleep loss over paying for health care, retirement and other financial matters has increased 13 percentage points in the two years since a March 2007 CreditCards.com poll, which posed the same question to survey participants.

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Tips for sleeping through the credit crisis
  • Talking about your financial troubles with family or friends may help reduce anxiety and increase sleep.
  • Try meditating, deep breathing or other techniques to take your mind off of your financial problems before bedtime.
  • Seek professional help from a counselor or sleep expert -- if you can afford it.
  • Adjust lighting and temperature in your bedroom to improve sleeping comfort. Avoid sleeping with the lights or television on.
  • Exercise regularly but not too close to bedtime. Leave at least three hours between workouts and bedtime.
  • Reserve the bedroom for sleeping or sex. Avoid watching television or working on the computer in the bedroom.
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol close to bedtime. Both can interfere with sleep. Some people may be able to drift off to sleep with a glass of wine, but they may awaken in the middle of the night.

For more information on sleep disorders and for a list of sleep experts, contact the National Sleep Foundation.

The 2007 poll showed 56 percent of respondents reporting occasional sleep loss over financial matters -- compared to 69 percent in the 2009 survey. Reports of sleeplessness increased across the board between 2007 and 2009 -- with the greatest increase (20 percent to 28 percent) in sleep loss occurring for people worried about paying the mortgage and rent. Saving money for retirement also rose on the sleep loss scale from 34 percent to 40 percent, health care and insurance worries rose from 28 percent to 35 percent, education costs went from 20 percent to 27 percent and concern about the ability to pay credit card bills increased from 17 percent to 23 percent.

Other highlights of the 2009 poll include:

  • Women were more likely than men to say they've lost sleep over financial matters in general. Nearly three quarters of women (74 percent) say they've lost sleep occasionally over finances compared to 64 percent of the men in the poll who reported sleep loss.
  • People 50 to 64 years old lost more sleep over their health care or insurance bills than any other age group (41 percent). And exactly half (50 percent) of 35- to 49-year olds lost sleep over saving enough money for retirement, followed closely by 45 percent of 50- to 64-year-olds.
  • People earning $30,000 to $39,999 may be tossing and turning more than any other income group. Half of them (50 percent) report losing sleep over saving enough money for retirement, 48 percent were sleepless over mortgage and rent payments and nearly a third (32 percent) report sleep loss due to credit card debt.

Experts say women are more prone to sleep loss than men. Some say it's because of women's fluctuating hormone levels throughout their lifetimes. Hormones affect the central nervous system, which can interrupt normal sleep patterns.

Culturally, women also tend to lose more sleep than men because they are often family caregivers. If a spouse or loved one is in financial trouble, the woman of the family may feel the impact in her sleep. "If someone in their family is sick and need help, they are the ones who are staying up at night," says Kryger.

Gender differences: Who sleeps less?

Women are much more likely than men to report losing sleep over financial issues. The chart compares male and female responses in March 2007 and June 2009. Both sexes report more sleep loss in 2009 compared to before the recession. 

"A lot more people are concerned about credit cards because of the changes in the interest rates," says Michael V. Vitiello, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle. He says concerns about saving enough for retirement likely affected older adults who saw their retirement nest eggs erode in the Wall Street meltdown.

"If you were heavily invested in the market, then the downturn led to a cutback on everybody," he says. Those still in the workforce are worrying about health care costs. "People a bit younger are thinking, 'I've got this kind of coverage in my current situation. What am I going to do once I leave full-time employment?'" Vitiello says.

How much is not enough sleep?
According to sleep experts, you may have a sleep problem if you experience any of the following for more than a month:

  • Have difficulty falling asleep at night.
  • Awake in the middle of the night and can't go back to sleep.
  • Wake up too early in the morning.
  • Feel tired during the day.

People losing sleep over money problems may find themselves in a kind of catch-22. Lack of money to pay for professional help in combating sleep disorders can cause more anxiety and sleep loss.

"They lost their job and can't afford COBRA. They may not be able to pay for health care. All of a sudden they can't get the necessary therapy," says Kryger, who adds a growing number of patients at his Connecticut sleep clinic are wrestling with this issue. "That adds to their worry. Some people are stuck in a vicious circle."

Poll methodology
The 2009 survey was conducted from June 26-28, 2009, and the 2007 survey from March 5-12, 2007, by GfK Roper Public Affairs & Media on behalf of CreditCards.com. Random digit dialing telephone interviews were conducted with 1,004 adults ages 18 and over in 2009 and 1,000 adults in 2007. The raw data were then weighted by a custom designed computer program that automatically developed a weighting factor for each respondent, employing five variables: age, sex, education, race and geographic region.

The total margin of error on weighted data for the full sample is plus or minus 3 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level.

See other CreditCards.com polls: When times are tough, credit card bills are last to get paid , People scale back card use in changed economy, Credit card debt the new taboo topic, Medical debt can wipe families out financially, Millions will borrow to pay '08 winter heating bills, Gas prices will make '08 economy sputter, Snooping and arguments go along with joint credit, Type of credit card brings neither pride nor prejudice

Published: July 16, 2009


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