Lack of sleep has been linked to depression, weight gain, decreased immunity and even increased risk of cancer
Britons aren’t getting nearly enough sleep – and it’s having a negative effect on the nation’s health, according to a new study.
The Oxford University research, published by the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH), found that people in the UK are missing out on at least “one hour of sleep per night”. This lack of sleep is causing health problems including depression, weight gain, decreased immunity and even, the researchers say, cancer.
The researchers found that people had an average sleep time of 6.8 hours, below the 7.7 average that people feel they need. “Getting enough good quality sleep is a vitally important component of a healthy and balanced lifestyle, similar to being physically active, eating a healthy diet and staying within recommended alcohol consumption guidelines – although sleep often doesn’t receive the attention it deserves,” said Shirley Cramer, CEO of the RSPH. “Worryingly, our research suggests that many people may be under-sleeping by up to an hour per night, which when accumulated over a week amounts to almost a full night’s sleep lost.” “Given its importance to our overall health and wellbeing, we would like to see a societal shift so that individuals are given the opportunity to get a healthy amount of sleep and offered support when they are having difficulties with sleep,” she said.
The study also found that more than half of people have felt stressed as a result to little sleep, four in ten have “fallen asleep on public transport” and one in twenty have “fallen asleep during sex”. Lack of sleep, the study says, can also cause car accidents due to drivers falling asleep at the wheel, have a negative impact on blood pressure, reduce performance, memory and concentration and may even have “carcinogenic effects”.
“There is considerable evidence that rotating shift work is a risk factor for cancer,” the report states. The researchers point to a World Health Organisation report that concluded shift work that disrupts circadian rhythms was “probably carcinogenic in humans”.
Sleep has long been linked to mental health. A 2011 study from the Mental Health Foundation found that sleep was linked to anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
The authors of the latest study suggest that the government should ensure a minister has “cross-departmental responsibility” for the issue, with lead author Colin Espie arguing that sleep had been 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,” he said. “A national sleep strategy should be published which sets out guidance for the public and what more schools, employers and healthcare professionals can do to ensure the nation sleeps at night,” said Cramer.
If the research has inspired you to have a lie-in, however, bad news – a 2015 study from the University of Pittsburgh found that weekend lie-ins can contribute to problems including high body fat, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.