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Sleep problems are a reality in the UK. As the latest research shows, 74% of British adults reported a decline in sleep quality in the last 12 months

Every habit that we have in our routine affects our physical and mental health. We have shown this in previous posts where we talked about all the importance of being more active, the tips we should follow to include more movement in our routine,  how mindfulness can influence in our health and how our habits can impact in our hormones. Today, we would like to focus this article in our sleep and all the benefits of good sleep hygiene.

What do the research show?

Sleep problems are a reality in the UK. As the latest research shows, 74% of British adults reported a decline in sleep quality in the last 12 months. Young adults aged 35-44 sleep the least: almost 50% sleep only 5-6 hours a night and only 33% the recommended 7-8 hours. But, there are more serious cases; 1 in 10 people sleep only between 2 and 4 hours a night.

But this is not only a problem for adults. In 2022, 64.0% of young people aged 17 to 23 years had a problem with sleep 3 or more times over the previous 7 nights; almost twice the rate in children aged 7 to 16 years. This figure was higher for young women (76.7%) compared with young men (52.3%).

What are the main causes of this problem?

Insomnia means that you regularly have trouble sleeping. This problem is very common and the most popular causes are: stress, anxiety, depression, noise, substance and alcohol abuse or poor sleep hygiene (uncomfortable beds, inadequate room temperature, prolonged exposure to screens), sleep disorders, trauma…

How do you know if you have insomnia?

These are some of the most common symptoms of insomnia:

  • Not being able to fall asleep
  • Not sleeping all at once, waking up several times during the night
  • Not being able to sleep through the night
  • Waking up too early and not being able to fall back to sleep
  • Having a constant feeling of tiredness even though you have slept
  • Having trouble concentrating or being irritable

There are several types of insomnia. When it lasts for less than three months, it is called short-term insomnia, but if it lasts for three months or more, it is called long-term insomnia.

How does the sleep affect our mental health?

The effects of good sleep on our health are more than obvious. Sleep problems, either not getting enough sleep or not getting quality sleep, can have a negative impact on our health. Good sleep is essential to repair cells and restore the energy our bodies and brains need to function. Physically, sleep helps your body repair tired muscles and conserve needed energy. Neurologically, sleep serves to restore brain functions such as memory, creativity, problem solving and concentration.

More importantly, sleep also helps restore our emotional stability. In fact, too little sleep interferes with our ability to process emotions and manage impulses.
How sleep and mental health are intertwined becomes even more evident when reviewing what is known about how sleep is linked to a number of specific mental health conditions and neurodevelopmental disorders.

The main effects are:

  • Increased likelihood of feeling anxious, depressed or suicidal
  • Increased risk of psychotic episodes: poor sleep may trigger mania, psychosis or paranoia, or worsen existing symptoms.
  • Social isolation, not feeling energetic enough to socialise with others.
  • Difficulty in concentrating or making decisions
  • Increased unreliability or lack of energy
  • Increased likelihood of creating conflict

This lack of sleep could derive in serious mental health disorders as:


It is estimated that 3.8% of the population suffers from depression, a total of 280 million people. About 75% of depressed people have symptoms of insomnia.
Previously thought to be a consequence of depression, there is growing evidence that poor sleep can induce or exacerbate depression.
The difficulty in identifying a clear cause and effect reflects what is thought to be a bidirectional relationship in which sleep problems and depressive symptoms reinforce each other.
While this may create a negative feedback loop – poor sleep makes depression worse, which in turn further disrupts sleep – it also opens up a potential avenue for new types of treatment for depression. For example, at least for some people, improved sleep may have the corollary of reducing symptoms of depression.

Seasonal affective disorder
The weather also influences our mental health, and proof of this is seasonal affective disorder (SAD). It is a depression that most often affects people during times of the year when there are fewer daylight hours.

This disorder causes a disturbance in a person’s internal biological clock, or circadian rhythm, which helps control multiple bodily processes, including sleep. It is not surprising, therefore, that people with seasonal affective disorder tend to sleep too much or too little or experience changes in their sleep cycles.


In the UK, over 8 million people are experiencing an anxiety disorder at any one time (Mental Health UK) Less than 50% of people with generalised anxiety disorder access treatment (Mental Health Foundation).

Anxiety disorders have a strong association with sleeping problems. Worry and fear contribute to a state of hyperarousal in which the mind is racing, and hyperarousal is considered to be a central contributor to insomnia. Sleep problems may become an added source of worry, creating anticipatory anxiety at bedtime that makes it harder to fall asleep.

Bipolar disorder involves episodes of extreme moods that can be both high (mania) and low (depression). A person’s feelings and symptoms are quite different depending on the type of episode; however, both manic and depressive periods can cause major impairment in everyday life.

In people with bipolar disorder, sleep patterns change considerably depending on their emotional state. During manic periods, they usually feel less need to sleep, but during depressed periods, they may sleep excessively.

There is also evidence that sleeping problems induce or worsen manic and depressive periods.


Schizophrenia is a mental health disorder characterized by a difficulty in differentiating between what is and is not real. People with schizophrenia are more likely to experience insomnia and circadian rhythm disorders. Sleeping problems may be exacerbated by medications that are used to treat schizophrenia. Poor sleep and symptoms of schizophrenia may be mutually reinforcing, so there are potential benefits to stabilizing and normalizing sleep patterns.