Pillow talk - part 2

For now however, workers wade through a fog of drowsiness with all its concomitant effects. "Our research, conducted in 2009 (when the UK entered recession for the first time since 1991) shows that working long hours affects people's sleep quality and increases the number of people sleeping very short durations," Dr Bryan said.

Working long hours, with the accumulation of physical fatigue which accompanied that, was no guarantee of sleep. In fact, the opposite was true. "Long hours jobs tend to be those with more responsibility, so poor sleep may be attributed to sheer workloads, and it is higher qualified people who tend to be those putting in the long hours."

Working women were particularly hard-hit by poor sleep, he said, and not, as one might assume, because they were juggling paid jobs with child care responsibilities – although many are. "A large proportion of women in our study who worked long hours did report bad sleep quality and we thought this might be because of their other responsibilities. But women with child care responsibilities tend not to be able to work long hours so these were actually women with non-dependent children."

Dr Bryan's research confirms recent findings in the Financial Times on the sleep deficit. A survey by Philips, the Dutch healthcare and electronics company, of respondents in five countries, found that the average manager was sleeping 19 per cent less than the 'ideal' eight hours a night, according to the newspaper.

Forty per cent of those questioned blamed the state of the global economy for their insomnia. Americans were more likely than other nationalities to lose sleep through stress at work, with 30 per cent citing it as the reason they wake up in the night. Germany was next, with 27 per cent; then the UK, 24 per cent; and Japan, 20 per cent. The Dutch, at 12 per cent, were the least affected.

Understanding Society found that it was not just length of sleep and quality of sleep which was the problem; it was getting to sleep in the first place. A quarter of women said they had trouble dropping off within 30 minutes on three or more nights a week. One in five men said the same. By the time men and women reached the age of 65, half had trouble sleeping on three or more nights a week.

Many of these people were still working. Around 28 per cent of people over the current retirement age, and without long-term illness or limitation, are still in employment. Dr Bryan said: "The EU Working Time Directive (introduced in 1993 to regulate the amount of time spent at work in order to protect the health and safety of the European workforce) restricts long hours, but in this country you can opt out of that, which accounts for people working 48 hours or more a week."

In the UK an estimated 3.2 million people are working these long hours. While lack of sleep affects health and productivity, it may also skew David Cameron's project to measure societal happiness.

The Prime Minister says he inherited a Broken Britain. It's certainly Broke Britain. And now Bleary Broke Britain. He wants to create a greater focus on wellbeing rather than wealth, and from 2012 has pledged to introduce a happiness or GWB – general well being – index which will measure people's quality of life and not just their economic prosperity.

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