Mental health of millions of adults and teenagers being affected by poor sleep – new research from the Mental Health Foundation

Millions of people in the UK say that poor sleep has negatively affected their mental health – according to a new report published today.  Almost half of UK adults aged 18 and above (48%) said that sleeping badly had a negative effect on their mental health, according to polling conducted earlier this year.
 
The report -  Taking Sleep Seriously: Sleep and our Mental Health – found that more than a third of adults (35%) said that sleeping poorly had made them feel more anxious. More than four in ten adults (42%)  said poor sleep over the previous month  had made them feel more stressed and overwhelmed – while more than four in ten (43%) said poor sleep had made them feel more irritable and angry.  Meanwhile, the report found that two thirds of teenagers (66%) aged 13-19 said that poor sleep has a negative effect on their mental health.
 
The research is published by the Mental Health Foundation to coincide with the first weekday after the clocks go back and reports on two YouGov surveys, of 4437 UK adults and 2412 GB teenagers carried out in March 2020. 
 
Catherine Seymour, Head of Research at the Mental Health Foundation, said: “Our research has revealed evidence of the impact poor sleep is having on the nation’s mental health.  Sleep is a vital way to protect our mental health and prevent mental health problems. But it is not always easy to achieve this.  “There are many things we can do as individuals to improve our sleep. But it is essential that we take a whole-society approach if we want to tackle poor sleep in a comprehensive and effective way. That is why are asking the Government to make the prevention and treatment of sleep problems a key priority in their mental health and wellbeing strategies.”
 
Professor Colin Espie, a world-leading sleep medicine specialist from the University of Oxford, acted as the expert adviser for the report, with a member of his team.  Professor Espie said: 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. These include asking that employers 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.
 
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.  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.     
 
Planners should 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.
 
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 user to minimise night-time and bed-time smartphone usage.
 
Notes to editors:
For further information or for interview requests for Professor Espie and Catherine Seymour, please contact Fran Edwards at the Mental Health Foundation Press Office at [email protected] or on 07786 437249.  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 policymakers, 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.
 
The research was based on two surveys:
 
  1. The adult survey: All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 4437 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 9th-11th March 2020, just before lockdown.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+).
  2. The teenage survey: All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.  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 GB Teenagers (aged 13-19 years).