The UK Sleep Census

Michael Mosley

Are you getting enough sleep, and how do you compare to the rest of the UK? What are the health risks of poor sleep? Can sleep be ‘engineered’ to unleash the brain’s true potential?

Find out the answers by taking part in the UK Sleep Census (aka SleepUK)

Few things are more personal and more puzzling than sleep. We spend a third of our lives doing it, we all know how we feel when we don’t get enough, and if you’re anything like me you probably have a nagging feeling you could be doing it a whole lot better.

But despite the fact this nightly (or sometimes daily) ritual unites every person on the planet, until recently even the most basic questions have evaded scientists. Why do we sleep? What benefit does it bring us? And what happens when we don’t get enough?

It’s a biological ‘dark side of the moon’. We know it’s there, we know it matters, but we have yet to fully explore its wonders.

The past few years have seen a revolution in our understanding of sleep and why it is so important. For the first time, researchers are beginning to grasp the profound link between sleep and our physical and mental health; with far-reaching implications for all of us.

But to build on this work, they need a detailed picture of how we are sleeping now. And you can help by taking part in the UK Sleep Census.

Your results will contribute to important scientific research, helping scientists at the Sleep & Circadian Neuroscience Institute at the University of Oxford understand what factors may be associated with better or poorer sleep, and how sleep impacts the way we think and feel.

UK Sleep Census

BBC Horizon and Prof Colin Espie at the University of Oxford want to use the results of the UK Sleep Census (aka SleepUK) to explore what factors may be associated with better or poorer sleep, and how sleep impacts the way we think and feel. Click the link below to go to Oxford’s SleepUK website. The questionnaire gives participants feedback on their own sleep quality, and an indication of their circadian rhythm (or internal body clock).

You can take the test now

It will take around 15 minutes to complete, and you will be asked questions about your sleep, mood and physical health. At the end, you will be given a sleep score and an assessment of your circadian rhythm.

UK Sleep Census

What’s more, by taking part in this study you will also receive a personalised sleep ‘score’ and an indication of your internal bodyclock; as well as tips and resources on how to improve your own sleep.The past few years have seen a revolution in our understanding of sleep and why it is so important. But to build on this work, scientists need a detailed picture of how we are sleeping now. And you can help by taking part in the UK Sleep Census.Michael Mosley

We’ll be sharing the results of the study in a special episode of Horizon on BBC Two. The more people who take part in the study, the more we can learn about what affects our sleep and how we can take better control of it.

In the programme we will be exploring these results alongside the latest science, revealing surprising ways in which sleep can be improved and even harnessed to unlock the brain’s hidden potential.

I am genuinely fascinated by what we’ll find. Like many people I am obsessed by sleep, having spent much of the last twenty years struggling with my own insomnia.

It wasn’t always this way. As a teenager, I had a near-legendary capacity for sleeping wherever and whenever I wanted. As a medical student, I stayed up late into the night partying and then cramming for exams.

But as time went by, I began to find that I could no longer function on just a few snatched hours. And as I got older, I began to develop the classic signs of insomnia: difficulty falling asleep, and often waking in the early hours with thoughts rushing around my head.

I’m not alone. At least a third of us will experience insomnia at some stage in our lives, and many more will experience other common (and sometimes debilitating) sleep conditions including sleep apnoea, restless leg syndrome, and night terrors.

Over the years I have tried a wide range of techniques from music to cognitive behavioural therapy, from breathing exercises to sleep restriction, to try to manage my insomnia.

And while my sleep is by no means perfect, I am convinced that science holds the answers when it comes to finding a solution to our national sleep crisis.

That’s why I’m so intrigued about what the results of this study will reveal. Among other things, I’m hoping that the UK Sleep Census will show us what we can do to take control of our sleep – and how we can use sleep to protect our brains as we age.

As I get older, I am becoming increasingly aware of how precious my memory is. Like many people my age, I worry whenever I struggle to remember names and dates. I’m curious about the link between memory and sleep, and I want to understand whether sleep has the power to slow the onset of brain ageing.

I am also interested in the link between sleep and mental health. Research has shown anxiety and depression can lead to poor sleep, which in turn reinforces those negative emotions. I would like to know whether this vicious cycle has a role to play in the mental health emergency particularly affecting young people.

I am excited to be taking part in such a ground-breaking study. You can help by taking the UK Sleep Census yourself. Click here to give it a go, and get immediate feedback on your own sleep and tips on how to improve it.

Watch out for Horizon’s How To Sleep Well on BBC Two in 2021.

Source: BBC