Sleeping dangerously: 7.5 million Brits have under five hours' a night

  • One in seven (14 per cent) Brits survive on dangerously low levels of sleep a night, under five hours
  • Nearly three quarters (71 per cent) of UK adults do not have the recommended seven to nine hours’ sleep a night
  • Poor sleep is closely linked with conditions such as cardiac problems, dementia, and diabetes
  • Direct Line’s new ‘Need for Sleep’ study urges people to prioritise sleep for their health, as over a third (34 per cent) of Brits believe they have physical or mental health problems linked to poor sleep

The UK is a seriously sleep deprived nation, reveals a new study1 from Direct Line Life Insurance. Over 7.5 million people (14 per cent) sleep for less than five hours a night on average, which is seen as a dangerously low level and a threat to mental and physical health by medical professionals. It is widely recommended that adults have between seven and nine hours of sleep per night2.

The ‘Need for Sleep’ study of 4,000 UK adults in partnership with Dr Holly Milling, Clinical Psychologist and Founder of The Sleep Practice, found sleep deprivation is affecting the majority of people.

More than 37 million (71 per cent) of people across the country do not the recommended seven to nine hours night2, with just 28 per cent of UK adults  While the ideal amount of sleep is somewhere between seven-nine hours a night, the study revealed that the average UK adult sleeps for just six hours and 24 minutes1.

The impact of sleep on health

Sleeping less than seven hours a night has been associated with a range of adverse health outcomes2. Low levels of sleep are associated with increased heart problems3 and chronic diseases such as diabetes4 and dementia5.

Direct Line’s study found over a third (36 per cent) of those in poor health have under five      hours sleep compared to just eight per cent of those who are in good or excellent health. and sleep are closely linked, as three quarters (75 per cent) of those with a condition, some 5.8 million people, are dissatisfied with their sleep.

Over a third (34 per cent) of Brits believe that they have physical or mental health problems that could be attributed to a lack of sleep. Young people are most likely to believe that their health has suffered with half of 18-34 year olds seeing health suffer due to sleep compared to 13 per cent of those over 75.

Dr Holly Milling, Registered Clinical Psychologist and Founder of The Sleep Practice, said: “The science is clear: sleep is one of the biggest health investments we can make.  It is so important for our physical and psychological health and our study highlights the need we have as a society to change our relationship with sleep. We need to stop seeing sleep as a luxury and start seeing it as a necessity. If you want to improve your health and wellbeing in 2022, the best piece of advice I can give is to start with sleep as healthy sleep offers a solid foundation for everything else. Those you set will be so much more successful if they’re based on a good night’s sleep

Despitemany people believe they have a good relationship with sleep. The study showed over half (57 per cent) of Brits were satisfied with their sleep, despite just 28 per cent having the recommended amount a night. Women (48 per cent) were more likely to be dissatisfied with their sleep than men (39 per cent).

In further signs that UK society does not prioritise sleep, feel they could get more sleep but value free time more. Some 15.7 million people (30 per cent) believe their lifestyle is the biggest obstacle to better sleep.

Vincent Guadagnino, Communications Manager at Direct Line Life Insurance, commented: “It’s shocking to see how many of us do not have enough sleep and yet, , sleep is very closely linked to our wellbeing. There are so many demands on our time now that clearly sleep has fallen down the priority list when work, social life and family all take so much of our waking hours.

“What’s interesting is that having enough sleep is really an investment in our short and long-term health. We have worked in partnership with Dr Holly Milling on our Need for Sleep study to bring awareness and provide useful information and tips to anyone who wants to improve their relationship with sleep.”

Dr Holly Milling’s top 10 tips for dealing with sleep deprivation include:

  1. Prioritise sleep: When it comes to supporting your physical and mental health, sleep is more powerful than diet and exercise combined
  2. Try to wake up at the same time each day (even at weekends!). Healthy sleep loves consistency and waking up the same time helps to regulate your body clock (circadian rhythm), which in turn will help your sleep
  3. Access some natural light in the mornings whenever possible
  4. Avoid drinking caffeine after lunchtime
  5. Create a wind down period in the hour before bedtime, to allow your body and mind to transition from the activities of the day to night time and rest
  6. Reduce screens and brighter lights later in the evenings to minimise blue light exposure
  7. Check that you have a healthy sleep environment. Cool, dark, quiet bedrooms are ideal
  8. Go to bed only when you feel sleepy, not just tired, so you aren’t lying awake in bed
  9. Address stress; stress and anxiety can really disrupt sleep. We have been facing many significant stressors as a society in the last couple of years so it can be helpful to build a toolkit of strategies that help you calm and soothe your stress levels
  10. If you’re struggling to sleep, waking up feeling unrefreshed or experiencing extreme daytime sleepiness on a regular basis, talk to your GP or a sleep specialist. It may be that you have a sleep disorder, which may need more specialist support.


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Notes to Editors

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




5.   Association of sleep duration in middle and old age with incidence of dementia. Sabia S, Fayosse A, Dumurgier J, van Hees VT, Paquet C, Sommerlad A, Kivimäki M, Dugravot A, Singh-Manoux A. Nat Commun. 2021 Apr 20;12(1):2289. doi: 10.1038/s41467-021-22354-2. PMID: 33879784


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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 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

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 or get in touch at [email protected]