In addition to “richest town in America,” an accolade earned in 2018 and 2019, Los Altos Hills has scored another feather to festoon its proverbial cap: “best place for sleep.” Beating out Woodside, Hillsborough and, yes, even Atherton, the town clinched the dubious designation in a recent study published by Sleepopolis, a mattress review company.
Word of the honor brought a smile to Hills Mayor Michelle Wu’s well-rested face.
“I’m happy to know our town is ranked the No. 1 place to sleep in the country, but I’m not totally surprised,” she said. “It makes me sleep even better at night, but I always get a good night’s sleep here.”
Analyzing data sourced from various health journals, Sleepopolis ranked cities across the country based on 10 criteria: median income, obesity, drinking, smoking, food insecurity, insufficient sleep (duration), mental health, physical activity, air pollution and unemployment.
Los Altos Hills earned a 95.46 sleep score, just above Atherton, where slightly higher rates of obesity, drinking, smoking and air pollution may have dropped the town to a 95.44, second-place finish.
Los Altos just missed a top-10 ranking, coming in 11th with a 93.32, and while Mountain View’s 88.61 score wasn’t high enough for a national ranking, it earned the city 44th place in the state.
Wu has a theory about her town’s low obesity rate.
“I think perhaps our pathways play a positive role here, especially during this pandemic, shelter-in-place order,” she said. “Residents really are taking advantage of the pathways for exercise and fresh air without having to drive.”
Based on casual observation, she guessed there are two to three times as many people using the pathways now compared to before the coronavirus pandemic reached the Bay Area.
Dr. Maurice M. Ohayon, director of Stanford’s Sleep Epidemiology Research Center and a Los Altos resident, briefly reviewed the Sleepopolis results last week. He said it makes sense the company considered obesity, which can cause sleep apnea, and drinking, which can contribute to gastroesophageal reflux disease, but the lack of environmental considerations – beyond air pollution – puzzled him.
A study Ohayon conducted in 2016 explored the connection between light and sleep quality. He confirmed exposure to bright streetlamps, especially LED ones, detrimentally affects circadian rhythm, or the body’s internal clock.
Many of the factors impacting sleep are interconnected, Ohayon explained. Someone routinely exposed to bright lights, for example, is more likely to live near bustling traffic in an urban area with a higher habitation concentration. More people means more multi-family dwellings and fewer single-family homes on spacious lots distanced from neighbors and noise. And it’s statistically probable a single-family-home dweller collects a more substantial income than a multi-family dweller. More money, in turn, translates to more resources for improving slumber.
“If you have a median income that’s down, you cannot change your mattress so often – so that’s where they have an interest, I’m sure. I have no link with this mattress company,” Ohayon said, laughing. “But sure, as a sleep specialist, I am always asking the question how people change their kitchen, modernize their kitchen, every three, five years and they never do the same for their bedroom. Why is the bedroom the last room in which we do improvement?”
The absence of a noise metric in the study surprised the mayor as well. When longtime quiet skies crusader Gary Waldeck’s council term expired in 2018, Wu took his spot on the Santa Clara/Santa Cruz Roundtable, a group of local leaders working to mitigate overhead aircraft noise. In recent weeks, they’ve noticed social distancing’s crippling effect on the airline industry has resulted in a positive consequence on the ground: an estimated 90% drop in airplane noise.
It’s welcome news to Wu, who is growing accustomed to Hills residents’ newfound delight of detecting deafening pin drops in the night.
“We all deserve a good night’s sleep, regardless of where we live – especially right now,” she said. “So I want to say to everyone, ‘Have a good night, sleep tight and keep it up.”
To review the Sleepopolis study, visit sleepopolis.com/sleep-cities.