The Average Brit Incurs 32 hours of ‘Sleep Debt’ Each Month

Sleep Debt.
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Sleep is crucial for good health – it regulates our mood, affects productivity, concentration, and weight, and is the key to a healthy lifestyle.

  1. 1/3 of people try to catch up on their sleep debt by binge sleeping on weekends.
  2. Experts say there is no way of repaying long-term sleep debt.
  3. 74% of Brits often struggle to fall asleep at night.

But according to a nationwide study on 2,500 adults by online bed superstore Bedstar, the average Brit is missing a staggering 32.3 hours of sleep each month* – shockingly, the figure is even higher in certain parts of the UK.

Clearly, we are not getting enough sleep as a nation – but are we aware of it? The survey implies we are, as it also revealed that 31.8% of sleep-deprived Brits repay their ‘sleep debt’ by binge sleeping on weekends.

According to The National Sleep Foundation, ‘sleep debt’ is ‘the difference between the amount of sleep you need and the amount you’re getting.’

But can you repay long-term sleep debt?

The survey shows that we’re becoming a sleep-deprived nation, missing out on 32 + hours of sleep each month. Unfortunately, some experts argue that there’s no way to ‘repay’ long-term sleep debt – they recommend changing your habits to ensure you get sufficient rest to live the healthiest life possible.

They also advise sticking to a regular sleep and wake schedule, avoiding caffeine and alcohol (especially before bed), daily exercise, and switching off electronics at least an hour before bedtime (keeping all technology out of the bedroom).

Sleep deprivation can cause dehydration.
Sleep deprivation can cause dehydration.

Find out how much sleep deprivation your region has

It appears West Midlanders are the biggest sufferers, missing out on a massive 39.2 hours of shut-eye a month; East Midlanders come in around average, incurring a sleep debt of 31.7 hours a month; and the Northern Irish are the healthiest (said very loosely) when it comes to sleep, only short of 27.1 hours sleep per month.

When compared across the industries, it may come as no surprise that those working in the healthcare industry were the most sleep-deprived in the UK, missing out on a whopping 42.4 hours per month. The sector in which Brits have the lowest sleep debt was the public services, though it was still a significant 21.6 hours. 

So why aren’t we getting enough sleep? According to the survey results, 73.5% of Brits say they often struggle to fall asleep at night, and it takes 54 minutes on average to fall asleep.

And it’s hardly surprising that, as a nation, we find it hard to switch off, given that the survey also revealed that one in ten Brits (11.4%) admit to drinking caffeine (tea, coffee, or energy drinks) at night, and 30.7% use their mobile phones every night just before going to bed.

Worse still, the survey revealed that for some, falling asleep is only half the battle – it’s staying asleep that is also a challenge.

According to the survey results, 29% of those who wake up in the middle of the night do so because they need the bathroom (a good reason to kick the caffeine before-bed habit); 27.1% blamed an uncomfortable mattress; 21.6% of Brits said their sleep is interrupted because of the room’s temperature; 18.2% blamed waking up on loud noise outside, and 4% put broken sleep down to work-related stress.

For women, the most common reason for waking up in the middle of the night was to use the bathroom (47.8%), whereas men were more likely to wake up because of an uncomfortable bed (51.7%).

Young African-American couple waking up, suffering from back and neck aches after a lousy night in bed due to an uncomfortable mattress.
Pictured: Young African-American couple waking up, suffering from back and neck aches after a lousy night in bed due to an uncomfortable mattress.

Leading psychologist Robert Stewart comments:

Our bodies and mind need regularity and consistency, yet we often don’t prioritize sleep. From evolution, we have designed ways of coping on little sleep, but it’s important to realise this is a short-term over-compensatory mechanism, not a sustainable way of living.

*Based on the assumption, the average adult needs 8 hours of sleep per night.

Why sleep is so important

Sleep isn’t just some luxurious downtime – it’s absolutely crucial for both our physical and mental well-being. Think of it like hitting the reset button for your body and mind every night. Here’s why sleep is so important:

Boosts brainpower:

  • Learning and memory: During sleep, your brain consolidates memories, helping you learn and retain information effectively. Skimping on sleep can make it harder to focus, pay attention, and learn new things.
  • Decision-making and problem-solving: Well-rested brains are better at critical thinking, making sound decisions, and creatively solving problems. Sleep deprivation can cloud your judgment and lead to impulsive choices.
  • Mood regulation: Sleep plays a key role in regulating emotions. Chronic sleep loss can increase your risk of mood swings, irritability, and even depression.

Supports physical health:

  • Immune system: While you sleep, your body releases proteins called cytokines that help fight infection and inflammation. Inadequate sleep weakens your immune system, making you more susceptible to illness.
  • Physical recovery: Sleep is essential for repairing and regenerating tissues throughout your body. It supports muscle growth and recovery after exercise and helps heal wounds and injuries.
  • Chronic disease prevention: Studies have linked chronic sleep deprivation to an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and even certain cancers. Getting enough sleep helps regulate hormones and other important bodily functions, reducing your risk of these chronic conditions.

Overall well-being:

  • Energy levels: Feeling tired and sluggish? It’s probably due to sleep debt. A good night’s rest restores your energy levels, leaving you feeling refreshed and ready to tackle the day.
  • Emotional resilience: Well-rested individuals are better equipped to handle stress and cope with challenges. Sleep deprivation can worsen stress and anxiety, impacting your overall well-being.
  • Safety and performance: Lack of sleep can impair your reaction time, judgment, and coordination, increasing your risk of accidents and errors. This is especially important for tasks requiring focus and precision, like driving or operating machinery.

Remember: The amount of sleep you need varies depending on your age and individual needs. Most adults require 7-9 hours of sleep per night for optimal health. Prioritizing good sleep hygiene practices, like having a regular sleep schedule, creating a relaxing bedtime routine, and avoiding screens before bed, can help you achieve quality sleep and reap all its benefits.

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