• Nicola Barclay

Official launch of Sleep Universal!

Updated: Mar 19

Today is the official launch day of Sleep Universal! And what better day to launch than on #WorldSleepDay! This year’s focus, according to the World Sleep Society, is “Quality Sleep, Sound Mind, Happy World” (1).

Sleep is a fundamental state, important for health, well-being and longevity. Yet poor/insufficient sleep or symptoms of insomnia (including difficulty initiating or maintaining sleep, or awakening earlier than desired), affect as many as a third of the adult population at any one time (2-4). We are all aware of how a night of poor sleep impacts our day – poor sleep affects our mood, attention, concentration, and motivation; but consistently poor sleep also affects our physical health too. Accumulating evidence demonstrates that poor sleep quality, or sleep that is shorter or longer than one’s optimum duration (i.e. for most adults the optimum is between 7 and 9 hours per night [5]), are associated with myriad negative health outcomes, including obesity, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and psychiatric disorders, to name but a few (6-10). In fact, just one night of insufficient sleep (~5 hours) has been associated with the dysregulation of over 700 genes implicated in our immune system, and how our bodies react to stress (11).

We at Sleep Universal have been fascinated by the neurobiology of healthy sleep, as well as the factors which contribute to sleep disturbances, for well over a decade. Some of our own research has focused on understanding and identifying the genetic and environmental factors that contribute to sleep quality, insomnia and chronotype (whether you are a “morning-type” or an evening-type”). We have also looked further to understand the associations between sleep and psychological difficulties such as anxiety and depression, and externalising behaviours (like aggression and rule breaking) (12-30). We have highlighted that genetic factors that contribute to poor sleep are shared with those implicated in depression and anxiety. Findings like these are important because they shed light on the possible neurobiological mechanisms involved in both sleep and psychopathology. But our research also highlights that poor sleep is not just due to our genes – but that numerous environmental factors affect our sleep, particularly so in those who are genetically vulnerable. The good thing about this is that the environment is (to some extent) modifiable. By understanding how specific environmental factors affect our sleep, we can put in place tools to improve sleep.

But sleep is complex and not all presentations of poor sleep quality are the same. In fact, the International Classification of Sleep Disorders (ICSD-3) (31), the sleep clinician’s diagnostic manual, lists no fewer than 53 distinct sleep disorders that all have a unique symptom presentation. This list is even longer when we include sleep disorders that accompany other medical or psychiatric disorders or are the result of medication use or other substances. Whilst we may think of ‘poor sleep’ as something that we all experience from time to time, for some individuals, poor sleep and the consequent feelings of daytime sleepiness may be chronic and due to an underlying sleep disorder that warrants clinical attention.

Sleep Universal is a collaboration of sleep scientists, and whilst we are not clinicians, our decades of research and teaching about sleep and its disorders have provided us with an understanding of the aetiology, symptoms, diagnostic pathways and evidence-based techniques for optimising healthy sleep and sleep disorders. Our Sleep Science Research Consultancy service utilises our extensive research skills to offer research organisations tools to design, run and interpret novel observational and experimental sleep research studies.

Our Corporate Training service provides tailored talks and workshops on sleep and circadian science / therapeutics, both online and in-person, to ensure that your employees/students are getting the sleep needed for their optimum health and performance, and for your business to thrive.

Our Sleep Optimisation Training aims to educate individuals on the possible factors that might be underlying poor sleep, to share our knowledge of sleep disorders and their management. We aim to equip you with knowledge that could be the first step along the pathway to obtaining a sound night sleep.

We are excited to start this journey towards better sleep with you and your employees!


1. World Sleep Society. World Sleep Day. 2022 [18.03.2022]; Available from:

2. Ohayon MM. Epidemiology of insomnia: what we know and what we still need to learn. Sleep Medicine Reviews. 2002;165:35-41.

3. Jansen PR, Watanabe K, Stringer S, Skene N, Bryois J, Hammerschlag AR, et al. Genome-wide analysis of insomnia in 1,331,010 individuals identifies new risk loci and functional pathways. Nat Genet. 2019;51:394-403.

4. Lane JM, Jones SE, Dashti HS, Wood AR, Aragam KG, van Hees VT, et al. Biological and clinical insights from genetics of insomnia symptoms. Nat Genet. 2019;51:387-93.

5. Hirshkowitz M, Whiton K, Albert SM, Alessi C, Bruni O, DonCarlos L, et al. National Sleep Foundation’s sleep time duration recommendations: methodology and results summary. Sleep health. 2015;1:40-3.

6. Clark AJ, Salo P, Lange T, Jennum P, Virtanen M, Pentti J, et al. Onset of impaired sleep and cardiovascular disease risk factors: a longitudinal study. Sleep. 2016;39:1709-18.

7. Ford DE, Kamerow DB. Epidemiologic study of sleep disturbances and psychiatric-disorders - an opportunity for prevention. Journal of the American Medical Association. 1989;262:1479-84.

8. Gallicchio L, Kalesan B. Sleep duration and mortality: a systematic review and meta‐analysis. Journal of sleep research. 2009;18:148-58.

9. Kita T, Yoshioka E, Satoh H, Saijo Y, Kawaharada M, Okada E, et al. Short sleep duration and poor sleep quality increase the risk of diabetes in Japanese workers with no family history of diabetes. Diabetes care. 2012;35:313-8.

10. Kwok CS, Kontopantelis E, Kuligowski G, Gray M, Muhyaldeen A, Gale CP, et al. Self‐reported sleep duration and quality and cardiovascular disease and mortality: a dose‐response meta‐analysis. Journal of the American Heart Association. 2018;7:e008552.

11. Moller-Levet CS, Archer SN, Bucca G, Laing EE, Slak A, Kabiljo R, et al. Effects of insufficient sleep on circadian rhythmicity and expression amplitude of the human blood transcriptome. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2013;110:E1132-41.

12. Barclay NL, Eley TC, Buysse DJ, Archer SN, Gregory AM. Diurnal preference and sleep quality: same genes? A study of young adult twins. Chronobiology International. 2010;27:278-96.

13. Barclay NL, Eley TC, Buysse DJ, Maughan B, Gregory AM. Nonshared environmental influences on sleep quality: A study of monozygotic twin differences. Behavior Genetics. 2011;[Epub ahead of print].

14. Barclay NL, Eley TC, Buysse DJ, Rijsdijk FV, Gregory AM. Genetic and environmental influences on different components of the 'Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index' and their overlap. Sleep. 2010;33:659-68.

15. Barclay NL, Eley TC, Maughan B, Rowe R, Gregory AM. Associations between diurnal preference, sleep quality and externalizing behaviours: a behavioural genetic analysis. Psychol Med. 2011;41:1029-40.

16. Barclay NL, Eley TC, Mill J, Wong CCY, Zavos HMS, Archer S, et al. Sleep quality and diurnal preference in a sample of young adults: Associations with 5HTTLPR, PER3 and CLOCK 3111. American Journal of Medical Genetics Part B: Neuropsychiatric Genetics. 2011;156:681-90.

17. Barclay NL, Eley TC, Parsons MJ, Willis TA, Gregory AM. Monozygotic twin differences in non-shared environmental factors associated with chronotype. Journal of Biological Rhythms. 2013;28:51-61.

18. Barclay NL, Eley TC, Rijsdijk FV, Gregory AM. Dependent negative life events and sleep quality: An examination of gene-environment interplay. Sleep Medicine. 2011;12:403-9.

19. Barclay NL, Gehrman PR, Gregory AM, Eaves LJ, Silberg JL. The heritability of insomnia progression during childhood/adolescence: results from a longitudinal twin study. Sleep. 2015;38:109-18.

20. Barclay NL, Kocevska D, Bramer WM, Van Someren EJ, Gehrman P. The heritability of insomnia: A meta‐analysis of twin studies. Genes, Brain and Behavior. 2020:e12717.

21. Barclay NL, Rowe R, O'Leary R, Bream D, Gregory AM. Longitudinal Stability of Genetic and Environmental Influences on the Association between Diurnal Preference and Sleep Quality in Young Adult Twins and Siblings. J Biol Rhythms. 2016;31:375-86.

22. Barclay NL, Watson NF, Buchwald D, Goldberg J. Moderation of genetic and environmental influences on diurnal preference by age in adult twins. Chronobiology international. 2014;31:222-31.

23. Gregory AM, Buysse DJ, Willis TA, Rijsdijk FV, Maughan B, Messer J, et al. Associations between sleep quality and anxiety and depression symptoms in a sample of young adult twins and siblings. Sleep. 2009;32:A360.

24. Gregory AM, Caspi A, Eley TC, Moffitt TE. Prospective longitudinal associations between persistent sleep problems in childhood and anxiety and depression disorders in adulthood. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology. 2005;33:157-63.

25. Gregory AM, Caspi A, Moffitt TE, Poulton R. Family conflict in childhood: A predictor of later insomnia. Sleep. 2006;29:1063-7.

26. Gregory AM, Eley TC, O'Connor GT, Plomin R. Etiologies of associations between childhood sleep and behavioral problems in a large twin sample. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. 2004;43:744-51.

27. Gregory AM, Eley TC, O'Connor TG, Rijsdijk FV, Plomin R. Family influences on the association between sleep problems and anxiety in a large sample of pre-school aged twins. Personality and Individual Differences. 2005;39:1337-48.

28. Gregory AM, Rijsdijk FV, Dahl RE, McGuffin P, Eley TC. Associations between sleep problems, anxiety, and depression in twins at 8 years of age. Pediatrics. 2006;118:1124-32.

29. Gregory AM, Rijsdijk FV, Eley TC, Buysse DJ, Schneider MN, Parsons M, et al. A longitudinal twin and sibling study of associations between insomnia and depression symptoms in young adults. Sleep. 2016;39:1985-92.

30. Gregory AM, Rijsdijk FV, Lau JYF, Dahl RE, Eley TC. The direction of longitudinal associations between sleep problems and depression symptoms: A study of twins aged 8 and 10 years. Sleep. 2009;32:189-99.

31. American Academy of Sleep Medicine. International Classification of Sleep Disorders: Third edition: Darien, IL, USA; 2014.

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