UK public not getting enough sleep, says RSPH

Lack of sleep can result in poor health

The Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) is warning that sleep in the UK is undervalued and as a nation we are under-sleeping by around an hour each night – equivalent to losing out on a whole night’s rest each week.

Poor sleep has for some time been associated with poor health and an increased risk of developing numerous health conditions, as well as shortening life expectancy, yet there seems to be little official guidance on its importance to health.

The RSPH and sleep experts are therefore urging the Government to introduce national sleep guidance – a ‘slumber number’ – to recognise and reinforce the benefits of good quality sleep to health and wellbeing.

The report Waking Up to the Benefits of Sleep also recommends routine screening for poor sleeping habits when patients present to health professionals with other problems and for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) – found to be more effective than sleeping pills to be made more available to those suffering from insomnia – a precursor to depression. The RSPH is also calling for the topic to be introduced to the school curriculum in order to educate future generations on the benefits of healthy sleep.

A poll carried out by the RSPH reveals that we sleep for an average of 6.8 hours each night – yet 7.7 hours is cited as the ideal length of sleep, meaning that most of us a falling short of what is required. Research suggests that regular inadequate sleep can result in stress, unhealthy eating and falling asleep in public – as well as an increased risk of accidents and developing life-threatening diseases including cancer and heart problems.

Lack of sleep “damaging” to public health

Lack of sleep

Shirley Cramer CBE, Chief Executive of RSPH, says: “We do need to wake up to the benefits of sleep - there is a wealth of evidence that lack of sleep is damaging the public’s health. Poor sleep and sleep disorders impact on our ability to lead a healthy lifestyle and are associated with a range of diseases such as cancer, diabetes, heart attack and depression.

“Our research shows there is a yawning gap in how much sleep the public are getting compared to how much they need – this could be as much as one night’s worth of sleep every week. Efforts to combat this shortfall could be as critical to optimising our health and wellbeing as maintaining an active lifestyle or having a healthy diet. A good starting point would be to ensure sleep has parity alongside other areas of health and develop a national sleep strategy which sets out guidance for the public and highlights what more schools, employers, and healthcare professionals can do to ensure the nation sleeps better at night.”

Issue of sleep “neglected”

Professor Colin Espie, Professor of Sleep Medicine at the University of Oxford and co-author of the report says: “The importance of sleep for individual and societal benefit has been almost completely neglected in both policy and practice. Insomnia, the most common expression of mental disease is like a Cinderella disorder – seldom receiving proper attention, despite the fact that it is the most treatable pre-cursor to depression.”

How much sleep should I be getting?

How much sleep is needed

The report indicates that adults aged between 18 – 64 should ideally sleep between seven and nine hours per night. According to experts, sleep requirements peak between the ages of one and two, when between 11 and 14 hours is optimal. Requirements typically reduce to between seven and eight hours for the over-65s.

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