Mental Health Foundation report reveals impact of poor sleep on the health and happiness of the UK

Release Date: 27 January 2011

Source: Mental Health Foundation

Country: United Kingdom

  • New report featuring data from the largest ever survey of the nation’s sleep is published
  • People with insomnia revealed to experience dramatically higher rates of relationship difficulties, energy deficiency and depressed mood, amongst other health and wellbeing problems
  • Charity describes poor sleep as ‘a seriously neglected public health concern’
  • Recommendations made for overhauling our approach to sleep problems for the benefit of the nation’s mental and physical health

27 January 2011 - The UK charity, the Mental Health Foundation, has today published its Sleep Matters report on the impact of sleep on health and wellbeing, marking the launch of a major new campaign to raise awareness of the importance of sleep for the mental and physical health of the nation.

Over 30% of the population currently suffers from insomnia or another sleep disorder. Reviewing the latest research on the issue, Sleep Matters details how, far from being a minor irritation, sleep disorders put sufferers at significantly greater risk of health problems ranging from depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder to immune deficiency and heart disease.

New data included in the report also reveal the sheer extent to which sleep disorders like insomnia affect everyday issues such as relationships and work. Taken from the ground-breaking Great British Sleep Survey*, the largest ever survey of the nation’s sleep (conducted by sleep organisation Sleepio), these data show that compared to people who sleep well, people with insomnia† are:

  • Four times as likely to have relationship problems (reported amongst 55% of survey respondents with mild, moderate or severe insomnia, compared to 13% of respondents who slept well)
  • Three times as likely to experience low mood (83% compared to 27%)
  • Three times as likely to lack concentration during the day (78% compared to 26%)
  • Three times as likely to struggle to ‘get things done’ at work or elsewhere in their lives (68% compared to 23%)
  • Over twice as likely to suffer from energy deficiency (94% compared to 42%)

Dr Andrew McCulloch, Chief Executive of the Mental Health Foundation, said:
“Whilst great emphasis is rightly placed on the importance of diet and exercise, sleep has for too long been neglected as a major influence on the physical and mental health of the nation. Up to a third of the population currently suffers from insomnia, and with stress and longer working hours on the rise in the current economic climate, it is crucial that we now treat the issue of sleep problems as the major public health concern it is”.

Professor Colin Espie, Director of the Glasgow University Sleep Centre and Co-Founder of Sleepio, said of the survey results:
“The Great British Sleep Survey data show the extent to which sleep disorders can inhibit the very essence of who we are: our relationships, our mood, our ability to complete day-to-day tasks. These factors in turn have an impact on our health - sustained periods of low mood, relationship difficulties and lack of exercise due to low energy levels, for example, are all notable causes of mental health problems such as depression. They also affect our wider society - the diminished concentration levels and ability to complete tasks revealed by the survey, combined with the health consequences, also affect our productivity at work or in education. We can no longer just ignore the impact of sleep problems in this country. They are affecting our health, our economy, and our everyday happiness”.

Dr Dan Robotham, Senior Researcher at the Mental Health Foundation and lead author of Sleep Matters said:
“Poor sleep can lead to mental health problems, and mental health problems can lead to poor sleep. As a result, those who start experiencing insomnia can soon find themselves in a downward spiral of sleeplessness and ill-health, from which some never fully recover. It is therefore crucial that people are aware of the effective ways of breaking that spiral by improving the quality of their sleep. Employers, schools and public health bodies also need to know how they can identify and support people suffering from sleep disorders”.

Report recommendations

In order to tackle the impact sleep problems are having on the health and wellbeing of the UK, the Mental Health Foundation has made the following recommendations:

  • Local and national public health campaigns should be organised for schools, workplaces and other public arenas, to highlight the importance of sleep and advise on evidence-based good sleep practice and therapies (as detailed in the report).
  • GPs should be provided with up-to-date information and training about the importance of sleep and evidence-based sleep therapies. 
  •  The government’s new Public Health Outcomes Framework should include specific outcomes on reducing sleep problems.
  • NICE should develop guidance on the management of insomnia using evidence-based non-pharmaceutical therapies, such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) (the best proven therapy for persistent insomnia).
  • People with sleep problems should be recognised in the government’s Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme, especially regarding access to CBT.
  • Further research into low cost CBT-based interventions for sleep problems, such as self-help books and online courses, should be carried out.

Mental Health Foundation support for better sleep

To help the UK achieve better sleep, the Mental Health Foundation has produced Sleep Well, a pocket guide to achieving better sleep. The Foundation has also set-up a brand new website, www.HowDidYouSleep.org, where people can access advice and information about sleep. Free support materials, such as the Sleep Well pocket guide, a download-and-print sleep diary, an MP3 on relaxation techniques, and the full Sleep Matters report, can be accessed for free from the website. Further information on further campaign activities will be posted on the site throughout the year.

To read the full Sleep Matters report or executive summary, visit www.HowDidYouSleep.org.  

For further information about sleep or the Great British Sleep Survey data, or to request an interview with Dr McCulloch, Professor Espie, Dr Robotham or a case study, please contact:

*About the Great British Sleep Survey
The Great British Sleep Survey (GBSS) is an online survey designed by Professor Colin Espie, Director of the Sleep Centre at the University of Glasgow, Chair of the World Sleep Federation task force on Insomnia, and Co-Founder of Sleepio, a new organisation dedicated to helping people sleep better.

†Insomnia
For the purpose of the GBSS analysis, insomnia is defined as sleep disturbance for at least three nights a week to the extent that it causes a degree of day-time distress.


Breakdown of the Great British Sleep Survey data

Number of people surveyed
-   Total: 5,328
-   Male: 1,376 (26%)
-   Female: 3,952 (74%)

Age of respondents
-   16 – 30: 2,008 (38%)
-   31 – 45: 1,779 (33%)
-   46 – 60: 1,221 (23%)
-   Over 60: 320 (6%)

Prevalence of insomnias amongst respondents
-   Good sleepers (no sleep problems of any kind): 2,103 (39%)
-   No insomnia, but may have other sleep-related problems: 1,260 (24%)
-   Insomnia:  1,965 (37%)

Daytime impact areas of sleep

AreaGood SleepersInsomnia
Low mood561 (27%) 1,633 (83%) 
Low energy888 (42%) 1,841 (94%) 
Relationship difficulties279 (13%) 1,088 (55%) 
Problems staying awake251 (12%) 898 (46%) 
Poor concentration555 (26%) 1,537 (78%) 
Decreased ability to get things done475 (23%) 1,331 (68%)