A sleep study which is looking at how to improve insomnia caused by sleeping problems faced by people with complex mental health conditions is being launched.

St Andrew’s Healthcare is working in partnership with Loughborough University on the research, which will involve following the sleep patterns of some of the patients who are currently being treated by the Northampton mental health charity. Is it hoped the research programme – which is being launched on World Sleep Day on Friday 15 March – will help identify key factors which might improve the quality of sleep among patients.

The first research programme into sleeping problems in patients at the Northampton site was successfully completed last year, and found that patients who engaged in physical activity were less likely to suffer from insomnia symptoms.

The next stage of the research programme will investigate the likely benefit of lifestyle interventions and how they might improve insomnia symptoms in patients.

Dr Iuliana Hartescu, Senior Lecturer in Psychology, who is leading this work, said: “Patients in secure mental health settings face a set of complex circumstances which can adversely impact sleep, which include cognitive, behavioural, and environmental factors. Identifying those effective interventions that could remove some of these challenges to healthy sleep is a priority for improving the quality of life of the patients.

“We are looking forward to continuing our successful partnership with St Andrew’s, for improving key patient outcomes for better sleep and improved wellbeing.”

Researcher Sarrah Fatima, who will be carrying out the research work as part of her PhD programme, added: “In the secure psychiatric inpatient population, there is a high rate of insomnia and poor sleep quality.

“When it comes to medication, prescriptions are very often needed to address a patient’s psychiatric symptoms. However, the downside to this is they can inadvertently affect the person’s sleep quality by increasing insomnia and night-time awakenings.

“Through our research we’ve also discovered that the ward environment can also disrupt sleep. Wards can sometimes be noisy places at night as there are regular staff observations and noise from fellow patients all of which can impact someone’s rest. What this study is all about is how we mitigate these issues, because we already know that improving sleep quality can reduce psychiatric symptoms and reduce the length of admission.”

Dr Kieran Breen, Head of Research and Development at St Andrew’s Healthcare, emphasised the essential role of quality sleep in the recovery process: “Quality sleep goes beyond a biological necessity; it is crucial for effective functioning. Our commitment to finding effective strategies for enhancing patients’ sleep experiences is rooted in the profound impact sleep has on emotional well-being, trauma recovery, and cognitive skills maintenance.”

This collaborative effort aligns with the St Andrew’s Research and Innovation team’s mission to advance the understanding and treatment of complex mental health issues. By involving patients in the design and delivery of research projects, the initiative aims to generate knowledge and interventions to improve the lives of individuals facing the most challenging mental health needs in the UK.