On the 1st of March 2013, The Sleep Council released The Great British Bedtime Report, compiled from five thousand people surveyed in January 2013. It’s their biggest ever report to discover the facts about sleep.
In this article we’ll use this sleep research to find out who sleeps best, who sleeps the worst, and what steps we can take so we ourselves to gain a better night’s sleep.
How much sleep do we get?
Less than a third of us get the 7 to 8 hours recommended sleep per night, and 27% of all those surveyed said they slept either poorly or very poorly. Not getting enough sleep is a huge problem for so many people. Having a lack of sleep affects our lives in so many ways. It hampers our productivity, impacts on our health, and makes people feel more depressed.
Considering that sleep is simply a natural bodily process, it doesn’t seem right that so many people are experiencing problems with their sleep. As we continue through the report, we’ll examine why these problems occur, and for the minority who can sleep well, what they are doing differently to the rest of us.
Who sleeps the best?
Surprisingly, Britain’s biggest city London slept the best overall, where as rural Wales slept the worst. But how can people in a busy metropolitan city sleep the best and people who live in the quiet countryside sleep the worst?
The report highlights that people in the lowest income bracket and those without jobs sleep least well, whilst those who earn a higher income sleep best.
Out of all the places in the UK, London has arguably been least impacted by the recession. Large parts of Wales however were experiencing an economic decline well before the recession.
It appears that the noise levels and the extra light from streetlights pale into insignificance compared to the economic climate of a region as far as sleep is concerned.
What keeps us awake?
Anxiety is a big problem for many people, but most people don’t realize just how many people suffer from it. Just under half of us experience stress and anxiety severe enough to keep us awake at night, with young people most likely to suffer from it.
Out of all the factors that could cause harm to our sleep, this appears to be one of the biggest. There’s no way our bodies can turn off and drift off to sleep when our heart starts pounding and our head fills with stressful thoughts.
With the constant worry about jobs, and particularly exam stress and limited education options that young people have to face, it’s hardly a surprise that our daytime worries are keeping us awake at night.
What time do we go to bed?
Nearly half of us go to bed later than 11pm, with just 1% going to bed before 9pm. But does this really matter? Well it appears that it does. Just under a quarter of those who go to bed after midnight sleep very poorly, whilst people who get the most exercise go to bed earlier and sleep better.
Biologically, we’re designed to fall asleep when the sun goes down and wake up again when the sun comes up. Falling asleep during the early part of the night better supports our natural circadian rhythm and appears to promote better sleep.
Not surprisingly, 17% of those who don’t have a fixed bed time at all sleep poorly. Having a stable sleep routine of falling asleep and waking up at around the same time each day is crucial to form a good sleep pattern.
How do we wind down before bed?
What we do during the final hour before bed plays a crucial role in dictating how well we will sleep.
Many people choose to relax with a good book, and statistics show that 39% of people who read before bed sleep very well. As long as you’re not using a bright light to read, this is a fantastic way to wind down before bed.
Over a third of people watch TV. This isn’t such a good choice. Our circadian rhythm is designed to send us to sleep when the sun comes down, and wake us up when the sun comes up. Unfortunately your body clock doesn’t understand the difference between the light coming from the TV the light coming from the sun. This means your body doesn’t secrete the natural sleepiness hormone melatonin, and so you stay awake for longer. So it’s not too surprising that 39% of those who watch TV in bed sleep very poorly most nights.
It’s not just light from the TV that’s causing a problem, light from phones also have the same effect. Additionally, people who check emails in bed are more likely to be affected by anxiety.
Worryingly, 16% of people use alcohol to fall asleep. Whist it’s true that alcohol may relax you enough to send you to sleep, it also causes you to sleep lighter. This makes sleep much less refreshing, and makes you prone to waking up in the night and not being able to fall back to sleep.
How can we sleep better?
So far we’ve learnt that avoiding bright light, having a stable bed time, and learning how to manage stress are all good ways to improve your sleep. But what else can we do to secure that good night’s rest?
In particular, the report highlighted that there’s a definite link between exercise and sleep. People who take more exercise are much more likely to sleep better than those who don’t. Just by increasing the number of footsteps you take each day can vastly improve your sleep.
One in ten people have an uncomfortable bed, and their sleep suffers as a result. Getting a comfortable mattress and choosing the right pillow needn’t be difficult or expensive, and can boost the quality of your sleep. Just adding a cheap mattress topper to your existing bed can make a huge difference.
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Many thanks to The Sleep Council for allowing me to use their infographics for this article. For more sleep research from the report, watch their video highlights or download a copy of the report from The Sleep Council’s website.