Mental health of Scottish adults and teenagers being affected by poor sleep

Mental Health Foundation study reveals Scots experience increased stress, irritability, anger and anxiety linked to inadequate sleep

Almost half of adults in Scotland (49%) say that poor sleep negatively affects their mental health – according to a new report published today by Mental Health Foundation. 
The Taking Sleep Seriously: Sleep and our Mental Health report found that more than a third of Scottish adults (36%) said sleeping poorly had made them feel more anxious over the previous month.
More than four in ten (41%) said poor sleep over the previous month had made them feel more stressed and overwhelmed.  Similarly, more than four in ten (42%) said poor sleep had made them feel more irritable or angry. 
Meanwhile the report found well over a third of Scottish teenagers (43%) aged 13-19 – agreed that poor sleep has a negative effect on their mental health.  
The research was published by the Mental Health Foundation to coincide with the first Monday morning after the clocks change and was based on two surveys carried out in March 2020.  A YouGov survey gathered views from 1,028 Scottish adults (18+) and Panelbase surveyed 401 Scottish teenagers aged 13-19. 
Lee Knifton, Director of Mental Health Foundation Scotland and Northern Ireland, said: “Sleep is vital to protect our mental health and prevent mental health problems but it is not always easy to achieve.  We are concerned that our research shows poor sleep is having a negative impact on so many people across Scotland.  “We know the additional pressures of the pandemic and associated restrictions are taking their toll on people’s mental health.  This study shows that the negative effect of poor sleep was already an issue for a significant number of people, requiring urgent action.“While there are a number of things we can do as individuals to improve our sleep, we need to look beyond this to whole-society approaches that tackle poor sleep in a comprehensive and effective way.  We call on Scottish Government to recognise sleep as a key factor for improving mental health in the population and take action on some of the structural and social barriers to good sleep as part of the transition and recovery plan.”
The Mental Health Foundation’s report was advised by world-leading sleep medicine specialist Professor Colin Espie at University of Oxford.  Scots-born Professor Espie was educated at the University of Glasgow with a PHD and DSc on sleep disorders, where he was also the founding Director of the University of Glasgow Sleep Centre. Professor Colin Espie said: “Sleep is a ‘need to have’, just like oxygen, water and food. We need to value and prioritise the benefits of sleep, because good sleep has a very significant positive impact on our mental health.  We also need to do much more as a society to get sleep on to the health agenda. As winter approaches, let’s make sure that sleep is no longer the Cinderella of our public services. It’s time to recognise that sleep is mainstream and crucial to our wellbeing.”   
The report makes a series of recommendations on improving sleep.
In the survey, 34% of Scottish working adults reported that their work (for example, workload, problems with colleagues and job security) reduces the amount of control they feel they have over their sleep.
The report asks employers to consider conditions in the workplace that undermine sleep health in the same way they consider physical and other psychological hazards. For those working nightshifts, mandatory health assessments should include screening for sleep problems and where possible, flexible and home working should be offered to employees.
Over a third of teenagers (34%) surveyed said they had been too tired to do schoolwork or study, and 36% had been too tired to concentrate in class or when studying.
Teenagers’ routines, including school schedules and early start times, may affect the amount of sleep they get, which has implications for their concentration, mood and mental health. The report suggests that delaying school and exam start times may help teenagers’ sleeping patterns by better aligning the school rhythm with that of their adolescent biological clock, making it more possible for students to get the sleep they need.     
We can also look at our built environment and how planners could prioritise elements of planning that have clear implications for sleep, such as: separation between loud roads and railways and residences; limiting street lighting visible from bedroom windows; building in acoustic dampening between noise sources and homes; and ensuring that buildings provide suitably temperature controlled bedrooms.
Finally, the report also suggests that mobile phone companies should give more consideration to how they can support users to have enough sleep. This includes the use of a pop-up message after midnight or another time to prompt the use to minimise night-time and bed-time smartphone usage.

For further information or for interview requests contact Claire Fleming at Mental Health Foundation Scotland [email protected].

Notes to editors:

1) All calculations in the press release are made by the Mental Health Foundation
2) The research was based on two surveys:
i) The adult survey: All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 1,028 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 5 March - 9 March 2020. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all Scottish adults (aged 18+).
ii) The teenage survey: All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from Panelbase.  Total sample size was 2412 Teenagers (aged 13-19 years) Fieldwork was undertaken between 11th-30th March, in the early stages of lockdown. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all Scottish teenagers (aged 13-19 years).
The Mental Health Foundation is the home of Mental Health Awareness Week.  Our vision is good mental health for all and prevention is at the heart of what we do. We use our knowledge, informed by rigorous research and practical study, to inform and work with policy-makers, communities, companies, the general public and others about how best to foster good mental health. We have pioneered change for 70 years and are not afraid to challenge the status quo.