13/12/2011 17:10 GMT | Updated 12/02/2012 05:12 GMT

Stressed and Sleepless in the UK

According to a couple of news reports from Britain, the ongoing financial crises - and the stress they cause to everyone from bank executives to everyday investors - are taking a toll on health, well being, and sleep.

According to a couple of news reports from Britain, the ongoing financial crises - and the stress they cause to everyone from bank executives to everyday investors - are taking a toll on health, well being, and sleep.

This news story focuses on the effects of the European debt crisis on workers in the banking industry. Depression, anxiety, and insomnia are common and widespread among the UK's financial workforce, according to the article, and these disorders are affecting those at all levels of the industry, from top executives on down. Reports that forecast increasing unemployment and particularly heavy layoffs in the financial sector are, understandably, exacerbating stress for workers in the financial industry.

As this article indicates, the culture of the financial workplace doesn't always encourage employees to seek help for stress-related health problems such as insomnia, depression and anxiety. All too often, the underlying message is to "tough it out." This leads to people denying symptoms even as they worsen, and often to compensating with drugs and alcohol, which only compound the problem.

On the heels of this news about financial workers comes this report on the state of sleep among Britons in general. In a poll of 3,000 adults, which was sponsored by the furniture company (and mattress purveyor) IKEA, Britons reported chronic and widespread sleep deprivation--and cited worries about work and finances at the top of the list of concerns that keep them awake at night. According to the poll:

• 70% of adults polled said they do not get enough sleep

• 57% say they are kept awake at night by worries about finances and work issues

o (This one just beats out being kept awake by a partner's snoring, at 54%)

Stress from financial woes is nothing new. This is a perennial issue, but there's no question that the last several years have been especially difficult and stressful for people in this regard. I've written before about the impact of a difficult and uncertain financial climate on sleep and health. Stress in whatever form is an enemy to sleep, and can also contribute to depression and anxiety. The relationship among these disorders themselves is complicated, with each being a possible trigger for the other. This dynamic is itself the subject of a recent study that shows insomnia is often accompanied by anxiety and depression.

Unfortunately, it doesn't look like there are any quick fixes on the horizon for the economic problems in the UK, Europe or in the United States. Here are some strategies for protecting your sleep if you find yourself coping with stress related to the difficult economy:

Don't reach for sleeping pills FIRST. I do believe there may be circumstances that warrant prescription sleeping medication, and you should discuss your options with your primary care physician. But I always encourage my patients to explore natural remedies before turning to prescription sleep meds. Regular exercise, early-in-the-day exposure to sunlight, a regular bedtime, plus the tips that follow - these are the components of good sleep hygiene, and they should always be the first route toward a good night's sleep.

Manage your exposure to news. Our 24-hour news cycle and the seemingly endless media outlets mean that there is no limit to the amount of information we can consume. All this information and media noise can lead to late-night worrying. Setting limits on media exposure can help you wind down peacefully toward sleep:

• Stop watching and reading the news two hours before bedtime. This includes all forms of news media: TV, online, radio, newspapers and magazines.

• Make dinnertime and evening a finance-free discussion zone. If you want to debate financial policy, or talk personal finances, plan to do this during the day, not at night.

• Give yourself a media holiday. From time to time, take a 24-hour break from ALL media. You'll be amazed at how relaxing and refreshing this news break can be.

Create a soothing evening routine. Now that you've eliminated news media from your nightly routine, its time to replace it with activities that relax you. Try reading a novel for pleasure, treating yourself to a soothing bath, even taking a leisurely nighttime walk around the block. Quiet, romantic time with your partner is a great stress-reliever and great for your relationship as well!

Avoid alcohol. It can be tempting to decompress at the end of the day with a drink or two. But if you're worried about your bank account, the ups and downs of the stock market, or the security of your job, then drinking to combat these stressful circumstances is a bad idea. This kind of drinking can lead to dependence. Moreover, alcohol, though it may make you feel temporarily relaxed and sleepy, will actually undermine your sleep. Use exercise, meditation, and time with friends and loved ones to provide yourself with relaxation and solace, not alcohol.

The affects of stress and financial uncertainty are not problems that are confined to the UK. We've got these issues on both sides of the pond. Wherever you are resting your head tonight, make sure you're taking the right steps to leave your worries outside the bedroom door.

Sweet Dreams,

Michael J. Breus, PhD

The Sleep Doctor™

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