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‘Severe’ stress most common among young, single women in UK

Benenden Health Matron, Cheryl Lythgoe, shares sleep hygiene tips to manage severe stress symptoms for stress awareness month.

15th April 2024, by Megan Anderson.

Affordable healthcare provider Benenden Health has recently found that the cost-of-living crisis is having a substantial mental and physical impact on younger generations’ health.

40% of GenZ and Millennials cited financial worries as the main cause of their stress in 2023, with 45% being true for women in the study and another 45% being true for single people.

The healthcare provider’s research also found a damaging cycle of stress, as almost a third (32%) have said that they experience stress more frequently now, compared to 12 months ago. There is also a clear correlation between the severity of stress and its frequency, with 65% of persons who are experiencing ‘severe’ stress, say they experience it more frequently now compared to 12 months ago.

With the UK slipping into a recession in late 2023, affecting mortgage and rent prices, as well as job availability, it is no wonder younger generations are especially suffering.

Benenden Health's findings also show the consequence of continued stress is having on the public, with difficulty sleeping (41%) being the most common, followed by over a third (35%) citing fatigue, more than a quarter (28%) noting irritability and similar (26%) citing depression.

Cheryl Lythgoe, Matron at Benenden Health expands on the impact long-term stress has on your body, and how crucial sleep is to overall resilience: “When we are stressed, our bodies release increased levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, which impacts our ability to sleep, unfortunately this lack of sleep increases our stress levels which increases our cortisol. Therefore, it’s important to ensure we support and manage both our stress levels and our sleep patterns.

“Mainly, stress prolongs how long it takes to fall asleep, as well as the quality of Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep which is crucial to our mental health because it helps with memory development, brain development and emotional processing.

“What is worse, is that when stress impacts deep sleep, it only continues the cycle as lack of emotional processing time in sleep leads to irritability, further fatigue and depression, which we have seen in our research results here.

“But there are ways in which we can break the cycle of stress by tackling our sleep hygiene:

  • Establishing regular routines is a great sleep hygiene tip to get our brains and bodies accustomed to falling asleep and waking up at the same time every day. Keep a sleep hygiene checklist, repeating actions at the same time every night such as putting on your pyjamas, brushing your teeth, or taking off your makeup. These consistent signals tell your brain and body that it’s almost time to sleep. A warm bath or shower prior to bed can also support a good sleep routine secondary to its thermogenic effect on the body. When thinking about good sleep hygiene, you should also avoid using technology 30 minutes to an hour before going to bed. Studies have shown that using devices before bedtime directly impacts the amount and quality of your sleep.
  • While the majority of sleep hygiene advice is concerned with what you do at night, your daily behaviours and habits could also be contributing to poor sleep hygiene. For example, drinking too much caffeine can make it much more difficult to drift off to sleep, so try to avoid drinking coffee, black tea, or energy drinks after noon. Similar sleep hygiene advice includes not eating too late at night. If you’re still digesting food when you get into bed, it will be much more difficult to fall asleep.
  • Consider looking at the environment where you sleep, your mind should associate that room with sleep or personal time with yourself or partner. Where possible, take as much technology out of the room as possible. Your bedroom isn’t the place for scrolling through your phones or tablets, watching the TV, or playing on the computer. By removing as much tech as we can from our bedrooms and making it into a haven of relaxation, the mind will connect that room with restful recuperation as opposed to an area that’s going to stimulate the mind. Ensure your room is also warm, comfortable and has the ability to block out as much light and sound as possible, as both of these have the potential to disrupt your circadian rhythm.

Find out more information on Benenden Health’s services.