Hidden health crisis: 23 million people suffering from insomnia

  • Nearly 23 million people have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep or they wake early at least three times a week for over three months
  • Seven Million Brits medicate themselves to sleep
  • Insomnia has risen from 20 per cent pre pandemic to over 40 per cent of the adult population
  • Close link between sleep and health: two thirds (66 per cent) of those in poor health have insomnia, nearly double the proportion of those in good health (35 per cent)


Insomnia is on the rise across the UK reveals new research from Direct Line Life Insurance’s Need for Sleep study1.  Almost 23 million people (44 per cent of the adult population), are experiencing symptoms of insomnia, which means having trouble going to sleep, staying asleep, or they wake early for at least three nights a week over three months or more2. A fifth (20 per cent) of adults, nearly 11 million people, have been experiencing all three insomnia warning signs for over three months, according to the latest research.

Scientific sleep studies suggest that the number of people reporting symptoms of insomnia pre pandemic were two in 10, however, during the lockdown period this almost doubled to four in 103. The results of Direct Line’s study suggest that these rates have continued to rise, with at least 44 per cent reporting symptoms of chronic insomnia.

A lack of sleep is documented to increase the likelihood of experiencing health difficulties4. Direct Line Life Insurance’s ’Need for Sleep’ campaign, where the insurer partnered with Dr Holly Milling a registered clinical psychologist and founder of The Sleep Practice, found two thirds (66 per cent) of those in poor or terrible health suffer from insomnia, double the proportion of those in good health (35 per cent).

The number of Google searches for insomnia have been on the rise too5 as people look for solutions to their night-time issues and one in seven people (13 per cent) in the study reported taking some form of medication to help them get to sleep, the equivalent of 7 million Brits.

Staying asleep seems to be the greatest problem for people with insomnia, with two fifths (35 per cent) of adults consistently struggling to remain asleep through the night. Similar proportions find themselves regularly waking earlier than planned (33 per cent) and taking longer than 15 minutes to fall asleep (30 per cent).

Table one: Proportion of UK adult population suffering from insomnia 


3+ nights

3+ nights, 4+ months

Share of all UK adults

Total number affected

Share affected

Share of all UK adults

Total number affected

Had difficulty staying asleep (one or more waking in the night)

50 per cent


70 per cent

35 per cent


Found myself waking up earlier than planned

50 per cent


67 per cent

33 per cent


Had difficulty falling asleep (taking longer than 15 mins to fall asleep)

45 per cent


66 per cent

30 per cent


All who had difficulty with 1+ issue

67 per cent


66 per cent

44 per cent


All who had difficulty with all three

27 per cent


75 per cent

20 per cent


Source: Direct Line Life Insurance, 2022

Dr Holly Milling, Registered Clinical Psychologist and Founder of The Sleep Practice, said: “The last two years have presented a huge range of challenges, including worry, loss, and isolation. Given that stressful life events are a common trigger for sleep disruption, it’s perhaps not surprising that rates of insomnia in the UK are continuing to soar. It can feel lonely and exhausting if you can’t sleep at night and with so many people struggling to get healthy sleep, there is a danger that we start to normalise poor sleep.

“We need to ensure we see healthy sleep as the life sustaining process it is, and not a luxury that we can afford to cut. The gold standard treatment for insomnia is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy so if you are worried about your sleep, speak to your GP or a sleep specialist.”

Sleep deprived nation

On average, people currently suffering sleep issues started experiencing problems over three years ago, but a sixth of the population (15 per cent) have suffered with poor sleep for a staggering 10 years. Half of UK adults, some 26 million people, often wake up feeling exhausted, suggesting their sleep quality is not good enough.

Vincent Guadagnino, Communications Manager at Direct Line Life Insurance, commented: “The fact that levels of insomnia are getting worse, not better, suggests that we continue to neglect sleep and normalise poor sleep. Our ‘Need for Sleep’ campaign highlights how closely sleep is linked to our overall health but how little we seem to prioritise it as a nation. It is so important that people are aware that improving their sleep will likely improve general health.”  

Dr Holly Milling has provided the below tips for people who think they have insomnia:

  • Get up at the same time each morning, even at weekends! This will help to set your body clock for the day and will help your sleep the following night. Consistency is key.
  • If you have a bad night, try not to panic. Having a lie in or taking a nap to ‘catch up’ can keep a sleep problem going, so go about your day as you planned and try to avoid napping if you can.
  • Give yourself permission to slow down and unwind at the end of each day. Switch off work emails and do something relaxing so that your body and mind feel calm and ready for sleep at bedtime.
  • When it gets close to bedtime, wait until you start to feel sleepy (and not just tired) before heading to bed.
  • If you wake in the night and can't get back to sleep, don’t let the bed become a battle ground with sleep. Instead, get up and give yourself permission to do something gentle and enjoyable. Wait until you feel sleepy again before heading back to bed.
  • If you’re feeling dissatisfied with your sleep and are struggling to fall asleep, stay asleep through the night, or waking too early (and this is happening more than three times each week), you could have insomnia. The recommended treatment5 for this is cognitive behavioural therapy for insomnia (CBTi). Speak to your GP or a sleep specialist for advice on where you can access CBTi.

For further information please visit https://www.directline.com/life-cover.

   - ENDS -

Notes to Editors

1 Omnibus research commissioned among 4,003 UK adults between 13th and 18th October 2021

2 American Psychiatric Association (2013) Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-5. 5th edn. Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Publishing.

3 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1389945721004196?via%3Dihub

4 https://academic.oup.com/brain/article/144/3/697/6205927

5 https://jcsm.aasm.org/doi/10.5664/jcsm.8810

6 European guideline for the diagnosis and treatment of insomnia. Journal of sleep research, 26(6), 675–700.


For further information please contact:

Chelsey Wheeler 

Deputy Head of News and Issues 

[email protected] 

Direct Line

Started in 1985, Direct Line became the first UK insurance company to use the telephone as its main channel of communication. It provides motor, home, travel, pet and life insurance cover direct to customers by phone or on-line.

Direct Line life insurance policies are underwritten by AIG Life Limited, part of the American International Group, Inc. Registered office: The AIG Building, 58 Fenchurch Street, London EC3M 4AB. AIG Life Limited is authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and Prudential Regulation Authority (FRN number 473752. You can check the FCA register at www.fca.org.uk/register or call the FCA on 0800 111 6768.

Customers can find out more about Direct Line products or get a quote by calling 0800 077 8297 or visiting www.directline.com/life-cover.

About Dr Holly Milling and The Sleep Practice

Founded by Dr Holly Milling B.Sc., M.Sc., DClinPsy., PG.Dip, The Sleep Practice is a leading UK sleep practice. Dr Milling supports individuals and organisations to achieve healthy sleep using evidence-based clinics, training and an industry leading sleep coaching programme.

Find out more at www.thesleeppractice.com or get in touch at [email protected]