Discover other people’s sleep secrets from the Expert Reviews Sleep Survey – plus some fun, surprising and essential facts about sleep
Wish you could sleep more? You’re not alone. Among the many sleep facts uncovered by the first ever Expert Reviews Sleep Survey, the biggest by far was that most of us want more shut-eye, and many aren’t getting the recommended minimum. Doctors warn that a lack of sleep is affecting our productivity, happiness and health.
Expert Reviews teamed up with YouGov to survey 4,270 adults across the UK and explore the nation’s sleep habits. As well as asking about sleep, we also looked at related factors including age, job seniority, parenthood and even mattresses.
Some results were more unexpected than others. It won’t shock you to learn that new parents get fewer lie-ins than 18-year-olds and you also may not be surprised to hear that your boss is probably getting more sleep than you are.
In this article, we’ll highlight the key facts about sleep as revealed by our survey, and explore the impact our sleep (or lack of it) is having on our lives. We’ll also offer a wealth of fascinating and fun sleep facts to open up the world of slumber.
Fun facts about sleep
Facts about sleep: Expert Reviews Sleep Survey
According to our first Expert Reviews Sleep Survey, many of us struggle to get the sleep we need. Here’s a roundup of our key findings.
- 45% of people we surveyed get less than seven hours’ sleep per night, the minimum recommended by the NHS for people aged 18 to 65.
- Nearly half (44%) of the people who sleep for less than seven hours a night only get from three to six hours’ sleep, and 1% don’t even get three hours.
- 77% of our respondents said they would sleep more if they could, and only 40% think they get enough sleep.
- Older people are more likely to feel sleep-deprived. When asked if they’re getting enough sleep, 53% of respondents aged 18-24 said yes, compared with only 38% of over-55s.
- People in London are the happiest with their rate of sleep, and people in Wales the least happy. 47% of Londoners said they get enough sleep, but a whopping 82% of Welsh people said they would sleep more if they could.
- Non-parents sleep better than parents of children of all ages. 60% of parents with children under four, and 54% with children under 18, said they do not sleep enough. The figure for non-parents is 44%.
- People in more senior roles are happier with the amount of sleep they get each night. 100% of chairpersons and 77% of CEOs said they get enough sleep, compared with only 38% of people in non-managerial positions.
- Bosses are better at napping, too – 48% of CEOs said they nap often, compared with 11% of the overall population. By location, the nation’s top nappers live in London, where 16% of people nap often.
Sleep facts: How many hours do we need?
It’s no secret that a good night’s sleep makes you feel and perform better the next day, and doctors even say good sleep can add years to your life.
- A full night’s sleep contains five or six 90-minute sleep cycles, each of which contains four sleep stages, including the REM stage when you dream.
- Many people wake up briefly at the end of each sleep cycle. You might shuffle around in bed or flip the pillow over, but you probably won’t remember it.
- 40% of people say they consistently get enough sleep, according to our survey. But 1% said they sleep less than three hours a night, which is far too little.
- Insomnia regularly affects one in three people in the UK.
- A long-term lack of sleep increases our risk of diabetes and depression, and may affect our immune systems and increase our risk of some cancers.
- Sleep deprivation reduces your tolerance to pain, and will kill you more quickly than food deprivation.
- People in certain professions are more prone to insomnia. A 2020 survey of 600 nurses found that 55% of them regularly have trouble sleeping.
Facts about sleep at different ages
We don’t sleep at the same rate all our lives. This change is partly biological, but other factors impact our lives as we age, with parenthood, illness, menopause and full-time caring all having a dramatic impact on sleep.
- Babies need up to 17 hours, children up to 13 hours. People over 65 can get by on a little less, but should still aim for at least seven hours.
- Obstructive sleep apnoea, where you stop and start breathing while you sleep, affects as many as one in five women during pregnancy. Restless legs syndrome affects up to one-third of women during their third trimester.
- New mums lose an average 62 minutes’ sleep per night, compared with 13 minutes for new dads. These effects last up to six years.
- Our survey found that 43% of single parents sleep less than seven hours per night, compared with 33% of adults in two-parent homes and 31% of adults with no children.
- Sleep disorders increase in women around menopause, affecting up to 47% of perimenopausal women and 60% of postmenopausal women.
- 69% of men and 76% of women aged 40 and older get up for the loo at least once per night.
- 66% of full-time carers experience disturbed sleep. The biggest proportion of carers in the UK are women aged 55-64 years.
- Up to 75% of older adults experience insomnia. Other sleep disorders, such as apnoea, excessive sleep and teeth grinding, also become more common with age but can often be treated successfully, says AgeUK.
Facts about sleep and productivity
Sleep is one of the most productive things you can do. It allows your body to recharge and your brain to function properly. Forget those myths about CEOs getting by on four hours’ shut-eye: lots of sleep is what makes them CEOs.
- Insomnia is calculated to cost the UK economy £34 billion per year due to productivity loss in the workplace.
- Sleep allows your brain’s neurons to recuperate. Limiting this process limits your ability to think quickly and clearly.
- Humans have between four to six dreams a night, during REM sleep. Dreams are vital for healthy cognitive functions, especially memory, and no-one is exactly sure why.
- A psychological study found that sleep-deprived business leaders were rated as less charismatic, and sleep-deprived employees were harder to inspire.
- Our survey found that 82% of company chairpersons and 73% of CEOs are satisfied with their sleep quality, compared with 59% of directors and 34% of non-managers.
- One in eight UK drivers admit to falling asleep at the wheel. Men (17%) are three times as likely as women (5%) to say they have fallen asleep at the wheel.
- The AA says the risk of driver fatigue is highest from 2am to 6am and 2pm to 4pm, because your internal body clock promotes sleepiness at these times.
- Napping is recognised as a productivity benefit in Spain, China and Japan, where it’s called inemuri (“sleeping while present”).
- In our survey, CEOs were 36% more likely than non-managerial employees to say they nap.
- The Romans used to nap in the sixth hour of the waking day, around noon. This was known as sexta hora, which evolved into the word “siesta”.
- Salvador Dali, Aristotle, Winston Churchill and Eleanor Roosevelt all loved a nap. Dali also claimed that dreaming boosted his creativity.
READ NEXT: How to dispose of an old mattress
Is your lifestyle keeping you awake?
The way you spend your day can dramatically affect the way you sleep at night. Food, drink, exercise and your bed are key ingredients of what doctors call “sleep hygiene”.
- Caffeine makes you feel more awake by blocking the body’s adenosine receptors. Consuming caffeine six hours before bedtime has been found to reduce total sleep by one hour.
- Adults who snack on seeds and nuts before bed may sleep about half an hour longer than people who snack on crisps and biscuits.
- Magnesium helps you sleep by boosting levels of the hormone melatonin. Magnesium-rich foods include almonds, dark chocolate and avocado.
- Alcohol slows down brain activity, so you feel sleepy. But it can limit your REM sleep, and make you snore by relaxing your throat muscles.
- Doctors say sleep and exercise have a “bidirectional relationship”, which means they improve each other. Exercise is now promoted as a non-drug therapy for insomnia.
- Going to bed and getting up at roughly the same time every day regulates your body clock and trains your body to sleep at night and be alert by day.
- Your bed can make or break your sleep. Mattresses that lack comfort, space and support will leave you tired and achy. To avoid this, the National Bed Federation recommends replacing your mattress every seven to eight years.
- In our survey, 71% of women and 68% of all respondents said the quality of their mattress impacts on the quality of their sleep. Only 17% disagreed.
- Light and dark are strong signals to sleep or wake up. This is why blackout curtains and blinds are essential for good sleep, especially in the summer when the nights are short.
- Noise is extremely disruptive. The best sleeping earplugs don’t block sound completely, but effectively cut the sound level of a snorer in half.
READ NEXT: How to choose the best mattress for you
Surprising facts about sleep and technology
Bedtime scrolling is a feature of our age. Maybe it’s part of your wind-down routine, but using digital media before bed can interfere with your sleep in all sorts of ways, from emitting “blue light” to triggering emotional reactions that keep you awake.
- On average, there are nine connected devices in every UK household. Studies show that 75% of children and 70% of adults use devices in their bedroom.
- 50% of people who watch TV before bed say they get less than seven hours of sleep.
- TVs, phones and other devices emit blue light, which has been linked to weight gain, insulin resistance, obesity and metabolic disorders.
- Social media scrolling causes cognitive arousal and inhibits the sleep hormone melatonin. Doctors warn that this chemical reaction is addictive.
- Ironically, 41% of UK adults have turned to online videos to help them sleep better, according to the latest Ofcom Online Nation report.
- Technology is not all bad for sleep. White noise from a TV or phone is a proven sleep aid. Music has also been shown to help some people sleep.
- Engaging in familiar fictional worlds can help you sleep. Familiar TV shows and films can work just as well as books.
- New technologies such as sleep trackers are welcomed by doctors looking for ways to treat insomnia without drugs.
- Sleep trackers and sensors are now being integrated into pyjamas and pillows that track your sleep posture, respiration and heart rate.
- In Japan, scientists are trialling care robots that watch over care home residents at night, record sleep data and detect sleep walking.
- READ NEXT: Best sleep tracker
Sleeping habits and mental health
When you’re sleeping well, your mental health tends to improve – but when you’re sleeping badly, your mental health suffers and you sleep even worse. It’s not easy to break this vicious circle, but it can be done by improving your sleep habits and environment.
- Around 75% of depression sufferers also show symptoms of insomnia.
- Long working hours are linked to worse sleep and higher instances of depression and anxiety.
- Our sleep survey found that job worries have a bigger sleep impact for young workers. 70% of 18-24 year olds said their job impacts their sleep quality, compared with 54% of 35-44s and 42% of over-55s.
- Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) peaks in the dark days of winter. SAD disrupts your internal biological clock and causes a hormonal imbalance that can trigger depression.
- 16% of SAD sufferers have frequent nightmares, found one study, compared with only 2.4% of people without SAD.
- SAD lamps boost the production of melatonin, which improves sleep, and serotonin, which improves mood. Light therapy for a month has been shown to reduce depressive symptoms by as much as 83%.
READ NEXT: Best SAD lamps to help your sleep and mood
How sleep and chronic conditions are linked
Lack of sleep affects your physical health as well as your mental health. Conditions including pain, breathing difficulties and diabetes often coincide with insomnia – and doctors say the power of sleep to heal and soothe is greater than previously thought.
- Half of people aged 55 and over told our survey they don’t get enough sleep.
- Regularly getting less than five hours of sleep in mid-to-late life is linked to a 40% higher risk of developing two or more chronic diseases including diabetes and cancer.
- Sleep apnoea may be a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
- Short sleep durations are associated with obesity, especially in childhood. Lack of sleep in youngsters can affect the development of the hypothalamus, which regulates appetite and energy.
- Getting enough good quality sleep can help type 2 diabetes sufferers control their blood sugar levels.
- Sleep apnoea can be treated in many ways, from wearing gum shields to sleeping with a CPAP machine and a special anti-snoring pillow. The NHS says it’s vitally important to get sleep apnoea treated.
- New findings suggest that the power of sleep to soothe chronic pain is far greater than the power of pain to disrupt sleep.
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Facts about sleep: Summary
Sleep is a thing of magic that we perform every single night. You already knew a lack of it makes you feel groggy, but you may not have realised quite how vital those Zzzs are for your mental wellbeing, your productivity at work and your physical health. As we’ve seen, even doctors continue to be surprised by how powerful sleep is.
None of this will come as much comfort if you struggle to drop off every night. Lying awake thinking “I must sleep!” is one of the best ways to wind yourself up into a state of insomnia-fuelled anxiety.
This is why experts say that if you’re struggling to get to sleep, get up. Go and read a few book pages, or have a hot bath, or do some “low impact chores” such as washing up or do anything which doesn’t violate the basic rules of sleep hygiene by stimulating you too much. Doing these things reminds your brain and body that you’re actually really tired, and can work wonders when you go back to bed.