The past 12 months has been undeniably taxing on the nation’s health. Whilst not everyone’s physical health has suffered, a significant proportion of people will have felt the pressure of money concerns, being cut off from loved ones, job insecurity and home schooling. Attention needs to be drawn to the vital role sleep plays in our overall wellbeing.
A recent study from Perrigo revealed that six in 10 Britons have struggled with sleep during the pandemic. At the same time, more of us have become increasingly aware of how interlinked and reciprocal the relationship between sleep health and mental health can be. Indeed, of those who struggle with stress and anxiety, the research found almost half (49 per cent) feel that a lack of sleep can either cause or worsen their anxiety or stress.
Crucially, among those struggling to sleep, a significant proportion highlight stress-related issues as contributors to their lack of sleep. For instance, 36 per cent cite work stress, a quarter claim worries about their physical health and nearly one in five (17 per cent) mention the stresses of family life impact negatively on their sleep. For some, breaking this self-perpetuating cycle can be a psychological hurdle in and of itself.
As we slowly exit Covid-19 restrictions over the coming months, activities which may have been viewed as normal over a year ago could now seem to be anything but. Understandably, the return of office working, commuting and socialising may cause concern and worry for people. Therefore, managing the knock-on effect that this readjustment back to normality may have on sleep will be difficult. Pharmacists will increasingly play a front and centre role in advising patients on what they can do to achieve a better night’s rest.
Many people underestimate the knock-on effects of not prioritising sleep
Undoubtedly, there will be many people out there who don’t know who or what to turn to about their sleep worries. In normal times, people may have looked to their GP for advice. However, many GP surgeries currently remain focused on vaccine roll out and so continue to triage appointments and run reduced services.
This means the role of the community pharmacy in educating and treating patients is essential. For patients coming into pharmacy and complaining of increased acne breakouts, skin issues, fatigue or a higher than usual susceptibility to colds and other sickness, pharmacists could gently engage with a simple "how has your sleep been recently?". This opens up a dialogue and encourages patients to think about their sleep habits – something they might not have considered before. Whilst all of these ailments may have other root causes, they can also be visible symptoms that someone isn’t getting enough sleep.
Similarly, asking patients to consider if they haven’t been feeling well lately or if they’ve been experiencing undue stress could get them to view their sleep issues in a new light and seek more appropriate help.
Many people underestimate the knock-on effects of not prioritising sleep, so it’s critical that pharmacists are able to provide the right recommendation – whether it’s a lifestyle intervention (e.g. decreasing alcohol or caffeine consumption), self care advice and guidance, short-term use of an OTC sleep aid or a visit to the GP to address an underlying mental health issue.
Alongside treatment and support, pharmacists can come together to help fill the education gap many people face when it comes to understanding the importance of self care. In order to be able to do this, providing a safe space for patients to discuss their concerns is of paramount importance.
Currently, community pharmacists are uniquely accessible in that almost all customer interactions involve engaging patients face-to-face. Therefore, now is the ideal time to start a self care conversation and highlight the role good sleeping habits play in our overall wellbeing.