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Adults and Children Not Getting Enough Sleep, Risking Poor Diets and Obesity

New research from the British Nutrition Foundation (BNF) reveals that 43% of adults reported sleeping less than the recommended minimum of seven hours on the previous night, and that 32% of primary and 70% of secondary school children reported sleeping less than nine hours* on the previous night, despite emerging research linking poor sleep quality to less healthy food choices, and increased risk of obesity. On top of this, 80% of adults, and 44% of secondary school children, reported waking up at least once during the previous night.

The research, conducted as part of BNF Healthy Eating Week (10-14 June), surveyed 6,018 primary and secondary school students aged 7-16 years, and 1,576 adults from across the UK, and asked questions about their night time routines, sleep, and eating and drinking habits on the previous night. ‘Sleep Well’ is one of the focuses for this year’s BNF Healthy Eating Week, and aims to highlight why getting enough good quality sleep is a key element of a healthy lifestyle.

Dr Lucy Chambers, Senior Scientist at BNF, says: “BNF Healthy Eating Week promotes and celebrates healthy living by focusing on five health challenges which workplaces and schools are encouraged to take on: Have Breakfast, Have 5 A DAY, Drink Plenty, Get Active, and, new for this year, Sleep Well. With more and more emerging research linking lack of sleep to poor dietary choices, and the burgeoning obesity crisis in the UK, we are keen to place a new focus on sleep this year – looking into how well people are actually sleeping, and providing advice and resources to help improve sleeping habits.

The implications of a bad night’s sleep can go much further than feeling tired. Where lack of, and disturbed, sleep can lead to adults and young people feeling grumpy and irritable, regular poor-quality sleep can have a negative impact on dietary choices, including higher intakes of calories and more frequent snacking on less healthy foods. The BNF’s Task Force report ‘Cardiovascular Disease: Diet, Nutrition and Emerging Risk Factors’ published earlier this year, suggests that it is not just a lack of sleep but also poor quality and interrupted sleep that may be linked to an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and hypertension – and this is an important message to communicate to those in the UK not getting enough sleep.”

The survey also reveals what some of the barriers might be to a good night’s sleep, with 59% of secondary school students, 50% of adults, and 49% of primary school students stating that, on the night of the survey, they used screens (computers, tablets, phones, television) just before bed. On top of this, one in ten (9%) secondary school students, and one in six (16%) adults, reported drinking a caffeinated drink before bed.

Alcohol consumption was also analysed, with nearly one in ten adults (8%) consuming alcohol before bed. Around half (52%) of adults who reported consuming alcohol before bed fell asleep within 10 minutes, compared to 61% who did not consume alcohol, and nearly half of adults who consumed alcohol woke up two or more times during the night, compared to 38% of those who did not. Whilst only 29% of all adults surveyed agreed they felt well rested when they woke up, for those who drank alcohol before bed this figure was even lower at 20%.

Only about a third of secondary and primary school students stated that they felt well rested or wide awake when they woke up and 32% of secondary school students said it took them more than 10 minutes to get out of bed after their alarm went off. The number adults taking more than ten minutes to get out of bed was even higher at 40%.

Amongst the other key elements of BNF Healthy Eating Week are the importance of starting the day with a healthy breakfast, and drinking plenty of fluids. The survey looked into how people start their day, and reveals that a quarter of secondary school students reported not having anything to eat before school on the day of the survey, with one in ten primary school students reporting that they did not eat breakfast that day. Thirty-four per cent of adults did not have anything to eat before starting work on the day of the survey, although this does not take into account those who might eat breakfast while working. Of those who did have breakfast, only a quarter of adults (24%) and 17% of secondary school children reported including any fruit or vegetables. A quarter of secondary school students, and 14% of adults, didn’t drink anything before starting their work or school day that day.

Chambers comments: “Schools and organisations registered for BNF Healthy Eating

Week receive a variety of free resources and activities to encourage employees and pupils to embrace the five health challenges. For example, for the ‘Have Breakfast’ challenge, resources and activities for children include: a ‘Have Breakfast’ meal planner, ‘Guess the Fibre Content’ games, and a ‘My Breakfast Swapper’ chart, with tips for how to make a healthier breakfast.

Alongside the concerns about sleep and diet, the survey also found that 15% of children and 17% of adults reported not brushing their teeth before bed the night before. This is a worrying finding as we know that good dental hygiene is vital for oral health.”

All of the BNF Healthy Eating Week materials have been designed so that the initiative can be continued all year round. Visit or for more information.


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