Page J – NBC’s gamble 1: Will America stay up early? 9/11/2009




NEW YORK, Sept. 11, 2009 — Among the claims being made lately by NBC brass and Jay Leno himself as they promote Monday’s debut of the new “Jay Leno Show” at 10 p.m. weeknights is the one about sleep habits — specifically that Americans are going to sleep earlier than they used to.

This factoid, if true, is being bandied about in support of NBC’s contention (and fervent wish) that millions of Americans will form the habit of watching what is essentially a late-night-style TV show every weekday evening in a prime-time time period.  At this point, their guess is as good as mine.

But it’s also unclear whether this bedtime story is, in fact, accurate — not that the news is bad for NBC.  An Internet search on the subject of American bedtimes yields little concrete information, especially as it pertains to trends.

The most consistent studier of American sleep habits seems to be the Washington-based National Sleep Foundation, which conducts an annual “Sleep Poll.”  The 2009 sleep poll (based on a sample of 1,000 adults and released last March) revealed that America’s average bedtime these days is 11:03 p.m. — which would seem to bode well for NBC and its 10-11 p.m. “late-night” show.

However, it is difficult to determine from the NSF data whether American bedtimes are getting later or earlier.   In 2008, the NSF’s study coughed up an earlier average bedtime — 10:53 p.m.   And prior to that, the data is inconclusive because the NSF polls varied by theme.  In 2007, for example, the poll studied only female sleep habits (finding that women went to bed at 11:02 p.m. on average).  And in 2006, the study was all about teens.  Further back, in previous studies of the sleeping habits of all adults, average bedtimes were not reported in the in-depth summaries found on

One other sleep-study factoid in NBC’s favor: The last time the NSF reported on the activities Americans engage in during the hour before going to sleep, watching TV was the top-ranked activity by a wide margin (that was in the 2005 Sleep Poll).  So, while the data on sleep habits seems at times to be inconclusive and inconsistent, some of it seems pretty clear: Americans are turning in at a few minutes after 11 p.m. on weeknights and before doing so, they watch TV for an hour.

Maybe NBC has something here.

Contact Adam Buckman:


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