The government could give people guidance on how much sleep they need each night, according to reports.
A leaked draft of a public health green paper, due to be published by the health secretary Matt Hancock, said the government would review the evidence on sleep and health. It suggested the minimum amount will vary depending on how old someone is and will come with advice on “sleep hygiene”, according to the Times, which obtained the document.
It was reported that the guidance was likely to state that regularly getting less than seven hours’ sleep a night could damage most people’s health. “This is with a view to informing the case for clear national guidance on the daily recommended hours of sleep for individuals in different age brackets and to raise awareness of the key ‘sleep hygiene’ factors that can support healthy sleeping,” the leaked paper said.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said it did not comment on leaks.
Hancock is due to to publish a public health green paper as part of efforts to improve disease prevention. The Times said that much of the green paper focused on obesity and smoking, but that it also makes reference to sleep.
“There’s growing evidence on the health impacts of lack of sleep,” the leaked draft said.
“Failure to sleep between seven and nine hours a night is associated with physical and mental health problems, including an increased risk of obesity, strokes, heart attacks, depression and anxiety … As a first step the government will review the evidence on sleep and health.”
Surveys by the UK Sleep Council and YouGov reveal that one in three Britons regularly suffer from poor sleep. But studies have shown the value of sleep. Earlier this year, in a study published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine, a German team of scientists said they had discovered that sleep improves the ability of immune cells to hit their targets and fight off infection.
Last year, the Guardian revealed that thousands of children and teenagers face a mounting sleeplessness crisis, with the number of admissions to hospital of young people with sleep disorders rising sharply in six years.
Experts described the problem as a hidden public health disaster, putting the surge down to a combination of exploding obesity levels, excessive use of social media before bedtime and a mental health crisis engulfing young people.
The Guardian analysed data from NHS Digital, the health service’s data provider in England, revealing that admissions by those aged 16 and under with a primary diagnosis of sleep disorder has risen from 6,520 in 2012-13 to 9,429 last year.