Sleep habits of the UK: How to get a better night’s sleep

Bupa Cromwell Hospital
15 March 2017

We recently carried out a survey which revealed that the nation is sleep deprived. So what’s keeping us up at night? And why are we finding it so difficult to switch off? With World Sleep Day fast-approaching, Joao Correia and Julius Patrick from the Cromwell Hospital share their advice on how to improve your sleep pattern and get a better night’s sleep.

A man who can't sleep, holding his head

The UK’s sleep habit

With a recommendation of sleeping between seven and nine hours per night, our survey has shown that the average UK adult is only getting 6hrs 18mins. Yorkshire and the Humber are getting the most sleep on average, with 6hrs 23mins per night, and Northern Ireland getting the least with only 6hrs 9mins.

A graphic by Bupa UK depicting how much the UK is sleeping

We also found that Wolverhampton residents are getting the most sleep at 6hrs 30mins, followed by Sheffield and Leeds. However, Plymouth residents are only getting 6hrs 3mins, closely followed by Coventry and Belfast.

A graphic by Bupa UK depicting the top ten cities in the UK who have the most sleep

A graphic by Bupa UK depicting the top ten cities in the UK who have the least sleep 

Can we catch up on recommended sleep at the weekend?

Many of us have a busy weekly routine; with time pressures, family commitments, and the familiar feeling that the hours in one day are just not enough. Your sleeping pattern is affected by all of this, so it’s only natural for the body to give you signs on the need to recover. Usually a long, relaxing Saturday and Sunday morning is the best way to achieve this.

Northern Ireland are attempting to catch up on sleep the most, with a difference of 56 mins between weekday and weekend sleeping. Yorkshire and the Humber are affected by this the least, with only 7 mins difference.

A graphic by Bupa UK depicting the hours slept at the weekend and on weekdays in the UK

What’s keeping us awake at night?

Along with our nation being sleep-deprived, we can also reveal the top 5 reasons we’re staying awake at night and struggling to switch off.

We’ve found that the most common reason we’re being kept awake is worry about work, with 29% of us admitting that this is stopping them from nodding off at night. A further 23% have blamed noisy surroundings for their lack of sleep, and 13% of us have admitted to drinking too much caffeine.

Top 5 reasons the UK is kept awake:

  1. Thinking about work
  2. Noisy surroundings
  3. Relationships (children/family)
  4. Electronic devices (such as TVs, phones and laptops)
  5. Too much caffeine

Why is sleep so important?

Sleep is a basic need, such as hunger or thirst, and your body needs it to function normally. It is one of our most important physiological needs. We still don’t fully understand why we need to sleep, but what we do know is that sleep plays a crucial part in:

  • ‘filing away’ memories in your brain
  • improving your ability to learn
  • regulating metabolism (the way your body breaks down food into energy)
  • reducing mental fatigue (symptoms include an inability to concentrate, poor short-term memory and your body feeling exhausted)

Sleep may also aid learning and give our bodies time to organise all the memories of the hundreds of events we experience every day.

What happens if we don’t get enough sleep?

The most obvious short-term effect of not getting enough sleep is sleepiness. You mood can change, and you can feel more irritated and find it difficult to concentrate. Tasks that are long and monotonous are normally the most affected.

Being sleep-deprived can also impact your health and wellbeing in the longer term. Your cognitive performance progressively worsens, meaning your knowledge, attention, judgement and memory may be affected. Your body’s ability to regulate energy alters, so losing weight can be more difficult, as your body has to run on less energy. Sleep deprivation can also lead to an increase in hormones linked to stress; increase your risk of heart disease and high blood pressure and even affect your immune system.

Top 5 tips for getting a better night’s sleep:

Banish your electrical devices from your bed: avoid using mobiles, laptops and watching TV, as these devices emit a blue light which gives the brain a false assumption that you are in plain daylight. Try to avoid using these once you are tucked into bed.

Avoid stressful and strenuous activities: exercise during the day is important for maintaining a healthy and balanced lifestyle. It takes time to wind down after a workout, so time it right and don’t exercise right before bedtime.

Watch your caffeine and alcohol intake: Too much caffeine can over-stimulate your nervous system, affecting your ability to fall asleep. Caffeine is found in coffee, black and green tea, some soft drinks, and chocolate, among other things. Alcohol consumption may give you the impression that you sleep better, but you will actually wake up more often and sleep will be more fragmented than usual.

Remember to wind-down: If you have an evening ‘wind-down’ routine, it can help you relax and fall asleep quicker. Sometimes, if you’ve had a stressful day, you should take five or ten minutes to reflect and resolve any troubles that may be bothering you, so you can go to bed with your mind at ease.

Be comfortable in your surroundings: Your sleeping environment should be dark, quiet and be a comfortable temperature. A dim light may interrupt and shorten your sleep. If you have a clock by your bed, you are more likely to check the time if you wake up during the night, and this can disrupt the rest of your sleep.

Find out more about the sleep cycle and what happens to our body when we fall asleep through our sleep directory. Are you interested in learning more about your health? Discover more about our range of health assessments.

Joao Correia and Julius Patrick
Bupa Cromwell Hospital

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