Insomnia and Poverty

Insomnia and struggle

Poverty and social deprivation are better indicators of the risk of poor sleep than sex, income level, age, employment or education.  An analysis of a public health information database in the U.K. looked at the responses of 500,000 people and found that almost one-third of them reported sleeping less or more than the recommended 7 hours per night that has been found to be associated with the best health outcomes and longevity.

The incidence of poor sleep, including waking at night, sleeping during the day, difficulty getting up in the morning and snoring were all associated most strongly with the level of poverty incidence in the area where respondents live.  Unemployment and ethnicity were also strongly correlated with poor sleep, and Black people and those living in deprived areas reported the worst sleep overall.

People who reported the fewest sleep problems were overwhelmingly male, younger, affluent, college-educated and long-term employed.  While this suggests that deeply entrenched structural inequalities are at the root of insomnia, the researchers found reason for optimism in the results because sleep problems can be usefully addressed through educational interventions and other approaches, such as cognitive behavior therapy.  This means that if these interventions can be targeted to the populations most in need, they can at least get better, more restful sleep, hopefully resulting in better health and more energy to face their daily lives.

Poor sleep is part of a complex web of factors including diet, employment status, living arrangements (rented or owned, with or without family), and overall health that enmeshes struggling people and makes it harder to address any one issue.  It is often difficult or impossible to discern which of these are under an individual’s control and which are not, and medical professionals struggle with giving advice that it may not be possible to apply.  However, there does seem to be reason for hope in that taking on one area of life where the needle can be moved gives strength for the next step and the next.  The success experienced by users of programs like SHUTi suggests that real progress can be made.