The study, which looked at data from half a million people, found a correlation between an individual’s postcode and the quality of their sleep
"What we’re saying is that if you look at the area that people live in, basically their postcode, that in and of itself, over and above income, over and above whether you’re single or married, old or young, has the biggest impact on your quality of sleep.” Prof John Groeger, head of Sleep Well Science, Nottingham Trent University
People who live in more deprived areas of the UK experience a poorer quality of sleep quality than those living in affluent areas, a large-scale study has found.
The study, published in the journal Clocks & Sleep, found that people living in deprived areas reported finding it harder to get up in the morning and were more likely to nap during the day and wake in the middle of the night.
It also found that both social deprivation and ethnicity affect sleep quality, irrespective of age, sex, personal wealth, employment and education. Black people reported the worst sleep, the researchers said.
The research was carried out by psychologists at Nottingham Trent University (NTU) and the University of Roehampton. It looked at UK Biobank data from 500,000 people aged 40-69, analysing reports of a variety of sleep problems. These included sleeping for too long or too little for their age; waking in the night; waking too early; snoring; daytime sleepiness; and difficulty getting going in the morning.
These were combined into a Problematic Sleep Index, allowing the researchers to quantify the individual and combined influence of a wide range of characteristics. This was cross-referenced with personal wealth, including household income and property ownership; ethnic group; employment; education; and postcode-based social deprivation information.
Almost one-third of participants reported sleeping shorter (24.7%) or longer (7.7%) than age-corrected recommended sleep durations – both of which are associated with increased risk of mortality. The incidence of shorter or longer sleep increased with social deprivation.
People living in deprived areas found it harder to get up in the morning, and were more likely to nap or doze during the daytime and wake in the middle of the night.
Poor sleep can increase the risk of certain medical conditions such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes, and it has also been found to contribute to mental health problems.
Professor John Groeger, the lead researcher and head of Sleep Well Science at Nottingham Trent University, said: “The sample size is sufficiently large to demonstrate that both social deprivation and ethnicity affect sleep quality independently of age, sex, personal wealth, employment and education.
“The implications of these findings have relevance to better health, educational outcomes, and wealth creation and productivity, as poor sleep causes all of these to be worse. Socially disadvantaged groups sleep worse, and this may be something we can ‘level up’.”
Groeger told the Guardian: “I’m hugely excited about this work and the implications of it. If sleep is really that different across the country as a result of where you live, then whole areas of people are not just going to be sleep disadvantaged, but the consequences are huge in terms of inequalities.”
He said that, although the study did not look into the causes of poor sleep in deprived areas, previous research had shown contributing factors to be overcrowding, noise, air and light pollution.
“We know a key factor is overcrowding, when you’ve got multiple people to a room or multiple people to a house,” he said. “What we’re saying is that if you look at the area that people live in, basically their postcode, that in and of itself, over and above income, over and above whether you’re single or married, old or young, has the biggest impact on your quality of sleep.”
He also said that the study found that the best sleepers were male, young, affluent, educated to degree level, living with others in the home they own, with a high income, multiple vehicles and a long-term job.
The finding of this large-scale study that people who live in deprived areas experience poorer-quality sleep is interesting, but not surprising. People living in areas of high deprivation are more likely to live in crowded, noisy conditions and more likely to have financial worries and job insecurities that keep them awake. This has to be caveated, however, with the finding that affluent people living in deprived areas also suffered poorer sleep. More puzzlingly, the study also found ethnic differences in sleep quality, which remained even after controlling for where people lived. To some extent the research raises more questions than it answers. Given that there is a relationship between lack of sleep and poor physical and mental health, this is an area that could clearly benefit from further study.