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Alarm clock Britain

Posted on 09 January 2013 by Dom Longford, Which?
Tags: sleep

This is a guest blog. Dom Longford is a Researcher at Which? The consumers' association.

Someone once told me that the key to a good day was getting a good night’s sleep and since then the aim of getting 'my eight hours' has become a bit of an obsession. So when I was asked to look into sleep patterns for an article in the October Which? Magazine, I had a personal stake in the results.

The analysis was based on NatCen’s Understanding Society dataset, a world leading study on socio-economic circumstances and attitudes of 40,000 British households. And we found a link between a lack of sleep and poor health. Here’s what we found.

Over a third of us aren’t getting enough sleep - that’s less then seven hours a night; 56% sleep between seven and nine hours; and 10% sleep longer than nine hours.

But it’s not just about how long you sleep, it’s also about how well you sleep - 20% of us ‘often’ wake up in the middle of the night and 22% rate sleep quality as bad. Worrying too, for some, is getting to sleep; one in ten of us struggles to get to sleep within 30 minutes. This explains the startling statistic that just less than one in five of us has sought a chemical solution to the sleep problem.

Beyond the boredom and frustration of tossing and turning, there are real ramifications for general health, as our analysis shows.

In particular, sleep is related to mental health. You are three times more likely to report ‘accomplishing less as a result of emotional problems’ if you get less than 7 hours sleep. In a similar vein, only half of those who sleep for less than 7 hours often feel ‘calm and peaceful’, significantly less than those who sleep for longer (65%). Fewer hours of sleep is also linked to a lack of energy, feeling downhearted and depressed, and lower levels of satisfaction with health. All these things are crucial to leading a happy and healthy life.

On the flip side of this, however, were the findings that people getting more than 9 hours a night were more likely to report accomplishing less, lack caution and energy, feel downhearted and depressed or be unsatisfied with their health than the seven to nine hour group. So it’s not the case that the more sleep you get, the better off you are. And it was still worse to be in the under seven hours group.

What we didn’t identify was the dynamic of the relationship between health and sleep. For example, do emotional problems cause sleep problems or does a lack of sleep result in emotional problems? Is sleeping for long durations driven by illness or old age? We don’t have the answers yet, but we do know that if you’re chasing that sacred eight hour night – as I do – then it appears that you’re doing the right thing.

Which? commissioned Natcen to investigate sleep and its relationship with health for an article in the October issue of the Which? magazine.  You can read NatCen's research report here.

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