Monday, 7 February 2011

Should sleep disturbance be higher on the Public Health agenda?

An article over at the Guardian has drawn attention to the high level of sleep disorders suffered by the British population. It goes so far as to call the problem an epidemic, with new research indicating that up to two thirds of the country may have trouble sleeping.  With sleep disturbance affecting mood, concentration, energy levels and many other factors in an individual's well-being, and it being the most reported mental health complaint in the country, it arguably deserves as much, if not more attention on the Public Health agenda, than more high profile issues, such as smoking cessation and obesity.

The research comes from a survey conducted by the Mental Health Foundation, in conjunction with Sleepio, a new organisation devoted to easing the nation's sleeping troubles.  Founded by sleep expert, Professor Colin Espie, Sleepio aims to conduct the largest ever assessment of the UK's sleeping habits, through The Great British Sleep Survey.  In the spirit of the Big Society, the project is being helped by corporate partners like Boots and national newspapers, the Guardian and the Observer.

So far, over  8,000 people have completed the survey. Having such strong partners will no doubt lead to many more following suit, but Social Media could really help too. There are twitter and facebook sharing buttons throughout the associated websites and these will help uptake, with some viral possibility.

However, as high uptake is the main priority, stronger calls to action encouraging people to share , might be an idea. Actually hosting the survey on facebook, as well as it's own website, could also be a real help. It's a general rule that once people are on facebook, they're more likely to stay there than follow external links. The survey is fairly simple, so adapting it to be delivered via a Social Media application wouldn't be too tricky.

There's also another aspect of the overall project that Social Media could help with. The Mental Health Foundation states as one of it's recommendations that;

"Further research into low cost CBT-based interventions for sleep problems, such as self-help books and online courses, should be carried out."

As we highlighted here, research has found that Social Media games, such as farmville and mafiiawars, could be an extremely effective method of delivering CBT.  Not only that, but if sleep disturbance is such a widespread problem, then the reach that Social Media games have (again, discussed by us here) could make them a hugely useful tool in addressing a problem of such scale.

And as I've mentioned before, there's the financial cost. In these times of reform and austerity measures, where most of the responsibility for Public Health is being transferred from the NHS to local Councils, who are already strained by budget cuts, any initiatives have to be cost effective.  Although the research and development of a Social Media game would have a reasonable cost, that for delivery via  Social Media, would be relatively insignificant compared to other ways.

You would be hard pushed to find a cheaper method of making such big difference and in the current climate, that's more important than ever.

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