Cognitive Daily

Last week we asked readers how much sleep they lost staying up to watch the political coverage of the Democratic and Republican conventions, and how that compared to the sleep they lost a few weeks earlier watching the coverage of the Beijing Olympics.

Do people stay up later to watch politics, or sports? Or are sports fans less likely to watch politics, and vice versa?

First off, let’s take a look at how much sleep was lost overall.


The Olympics were clearly a much bigger diversion than politics, with an average of an hour lost sleep per night for those who watched during the first week. But among our readers, Obama’s speech also resulted in significantly more lost sleep than any of the other speeches.But what about the larger question: are the people who stay up late for sports also likely to stay up for speeches? Our results don’t support that notion:

There was no significant correlation (positive or negative) between sleep lost watching any of the sporting events and watching any of the candidates’ speeches, or between total sleep lost during sports and sleep lost during politics.

But as many commenters pointed out, the political coverage was shown live, while sports was delayed — only people watching on the U.S. East coast had to stay up especially late to watch the speeches. What happens when we only consider people in the Eastern time zone (still a substantial number of respondents, at 139)?


As you might expect, people on the East coast lost more sleep watching the speeches than people in other places — significantly more in the case of Obama. But there was still no pattern connecting sleep-loss watching sports versus politics.

There were, however, a couple interesting correlations in this group. Women were significantly more likely to lose sleep watching the Olympics than men (r=.22, n=95). Perhaps even more intriguingly, there was a non-significant positive correlation between male gender and sleep lost watching Palin’s speech (r=.17, n=59, p=.19). It’s just a weak trend, but it would be interesting to see if this trend still applied with a larger sample size.


  1. #1 Stephen Downes
    September 12, 2008

    We got our Olympic coverage live in Canada, which meant much greater sleep deprivation as a result. Did you filter out Canadians (and, indeed, all non-Americans) from your results?

  2. #2 Track
    September 12, 2008

    I’m losing sleep over the thought of McCain and Palin possibly becoming our president and VP but I haven’t lost any sleep watching their speeches.

  3. #3 kim
    September 12, 2008

    No sleep !!

  4. #4 Theo Bromine
    September 13, 2008

    I lack interest in most sports, and perhaps that is why I have a hard time understanding why people go to such lengths to watch live broadcasts of things like the Olympics. I can empathize with the excitement of actually being there to watch the event live and in person. However, if one is watching and event on TV (alone, because there are obvious social factors when watching sports in groups), I wonder why it seems to make such a difference it makes if one sees it some seconds after it happened (delays due to those pesky laws of physics) as opposed to a few hours later.

  5. #5 RealLifeLEED
    September 15, 2008


    I happened to be in a crowded bar in coastal South Carolina the night when Phelps and co. won the last of eight gold medals. The whole place went absolutely nuts watching the last lap, and erupted at the end.

    I can definitely say that the only time I pay attention to swimming (and a variety of other less than popular sports) is once every four years during the olympics. Sure we could have watched it the next day, but knowing that most of America and a good deal of the world just witnessed the smae thing at the same moment is a powerful feeling.

    Not sure there’s any practical purpose for it, but I certainly got goosebumps.

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