Little sleep. Too much work. Dying young: SA’s dangerous lifestyle balance

South Africa’s work/life balance isn’t great, if new data is to be believed. Picture: iStock/Gallo Images
South Africa’s work/life balance isn’t great, if new data is to be believed. Picture: iStock/Gallo Images

For some, jobs operate on a 9-5 schedule, leaving plenty of time for relaxing and sleeping when the working day is done. But for others, long working hours can cut into other areas of life, including getting enough sleep.

Life is very much a balancing act, but which countries are thriving when it comes to sleeping the most, working the least and ultimately, living the longest?

Sleep Junkie, a website dedicated to the value of a good night’s sleep, has analysed a number of metrics in order to find which countries around the world are sleeping the most, working the least, and living the longest – in other words, which countries around the world have the best lifestyle through the creation of a work-life balance scoring system.

The metrics explored included the average number of working hours and annual leave, the percentage of people getting a good night’s sleep, as well as people’s happiness and life expectancy. The data also reveals how many people are searching for help on the Internet when they can’t sleep.

The scoring system is based out of 100, with Luxembourg coming out on top with a lifestyle index of 85.2. South Africa scores 47.5.

The 10 best countries on the lifestyle index. Graphic: Sleep Junkie

Luxembourg’s overall score of 85.2 was because more than half (53%) of the population in Luxembourg gets between seven and eight hours of sleep every night – which gives them a score of 9.5 out of 10 in the sleep category. Not only that, but, employees receive more annual leave the older they get. Those working over the age of 55 get as many as 36 days of paid annual leave every year, which is more than triple that of Malaysia.

Some highlights
  • Luxembourg came out on top with a lifestyle index of 85.2
  • US residents are expected to live seven years longer than the world’s average. The UK scored the best for sleep with 56% of residents getting between 7 and 8 hours of good sleep every night
  • South Africa scored 47.

Just missing out on the top spot with a total weighted score of 84.6 out of 100 was Austria. With a score of 9.3 out of 10 for happiness, as well as 55% of the population getting between seven and eight hours of sleep a night, it’s no surprise that Austria has come in second place.

The combination of good sleep and five days more annual leave than the UK resulted in residents of Austria also having one of the highest life expectancies in the world.

But, how does South Africa compare?

lifestyle index
This is how South Africa compares with the top 20 countries on the index. Graphic: Alison Visser/City Press

Well, South Africa works, on average, 42 hours a week, which is notably higher than in other countries. With a minimum annual leave of 15 days a year, this is considerably lower than the likes of the UAE, Russia and Norway who all have more than 25 days a year.

Over half (53%) of the population believe they get a good nights sleep with over seven or eight hours a night, however, when asked how happy they believe they are, South Africa scored six out of 10. This is far less than Canada and Finland which both scored over nine out of 10.

There are rising concerns over burnout in South Africans, with the World Health Organisation (WHO) finally recognising that it is bad for both mental and physical health. A survey reveals that nearly a quarter (22%) of all respondents felt overworked and short-staffed, meaning longer hours were worked and resulted in burnout.

Notably low countries

China, Mexico, and Malaysia all score below 40 out of 100 for lifestyle, with all three countries working on average 46 hours a week. Considering working hours are much longer in these countries you would expect employees to receive more time off, however, this is not the case with China only receiving five days of annual leave, Mexico six, and Malaysia eight.


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