Adults and children not getting enough sleep, risking poor diets and obesity, BNF survey finds

New research from the British Nutrition Foundation (BNF) reveals that 43 percent of adults reported sleeping less than the recommended minimum of 7 hours on the previous night, and that 32 percent of primary and 70 percent of secondary school children reported sleeping less than 9 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 percent of adults, and 44 percent of secondary school children, reported waking up at least once during the previous night.

The research, conducted as part of BNF Healthy Eating Week, taking place 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 focusses 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 we’re actually all sleeping, and providing advice and resources to help improve sleeping habits”.

The survey also reveals what some of the barriers might be to a good night’s sleep, with 59 percent of secondary school students, 50 percent of adults, and 49 percent of primary school students stating that, on the night of the survey, they used screens just before bed.

On top of this, one in ten (9 percent) secondary school students, and one in six (16 percent) adults, reported drinking a caffeinated drink before bed.

Alcohol consumption was also analysed, with nearly one in ten adults (8 percent) consuming alcohol before bed. Around half (52 percent) of adults who reported consuming alcohol before bed fell asleep within 10 minutes, compared to 61 percent 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 percent of those who did not.

Whilst only 29 percent 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 percent.

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 percent of secondary school students said it took them more than ten 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 percent.

Chambers comments:

“The implications of a bad night’s sleep can go much further than feeling tired. Where lack of, and disturbed, sleep can lead to both 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, highlighted that lack of sleep, and interrupted sleep, may be linked to an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and hypertension.”

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 schools 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.

34 percent 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 percent) and 17 percent of secondary school children reported including any fruit or vegetables.

A quarter of secondary school students, and 14 percent of adults, didn’t drink anything before starting their work or school day that day.

Chambers comments:

“Breakfast helps to get the day off to a good start by providing the energy and nutrients the body needs for good health and it’s also a great opportunity to make a start on your 5 A DAY. It is recommended that we should all be consuming around 6-8 unsweetened drinks every day to keep hydrated. In particular, it is important to encourage children to drink fluids regularly as it is not always something that they remember themselves.”

“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 percent of children and 17 percent 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  for more information.