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P103 UK university students’ insomnia and their coping strategies: A qualitative interview study
  1. Menghan Wang1,
  2. Richard Cooper1,
  3. Dan Green2
  1. 1School of Health and Related Research, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, UK
  2. 2College of Health and Life Sciences, Aston University, Birmingham, UK


Background Insomnia affects many people with physical and mental health harms, and reduced quality of life. University students are of particular concern due to unique academic pressures, with insomnia prevalence estimated between 9.4% and 38.2%. However, relatively little is known about UK students and this current study aimed to explore their insomnia experiences and coping stratgies.

Methods Utilising convenience and snowball sampling, a qualitative interview study recruited students from the University of Sheffield in 2022 via email and poster invitations. Online or in-person interviews were undertaken and recorded using Google meet or an encrypted digital audio recorder. Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) was used to examine the interview data involving; this used the recognised IPA stages which included initial notes, creating themes, tabling themes, identifying concepts and further tabulation and case selection.

Results A total of sixteen semi-structured interviews were conducted, resulting in themes relating to participants’ insomnia beliefs, experiences and associated strategies to manage insomnia. Self rather than professional diagnosis was apparent, and although participants considered themselves to have experienced insomnia symptoms, this word was seldom used. Participants referred instead to sleep problems which were characterised by their variability and two categories of perceived causes emerged: firstly, enduring/predictable factors such as studying abroad and ‘homesickness’, accommodation conditions, health problems and seasonal weather, and secondly, unpredictable factors such as feeling anxious or unsafe, COVID pandemic and being active before bedtime. Insomnia had multiple perceived negative mental and physical consequences for participants including: low mood, tiredness, weakened immune system and dermatological problems. Strategies to manage insomnia varied but were typically self-directed and included changes to behaviours and rountines, typically actively doing something to promote sleep through activity or interventions such as aromatherapy or distractions; more formal pharmacies/prescription medications were perceived negatively and only used occasionally, as were cognitive behaviour therapies. Participants frequently described positive involvement of others and sharing of their insomnia experiences.

Conclusion This exploratory qualitative study suggests insomnia or problematic sleep among UK university students is a concern and is linked to various perceived causes and has multiple negative manifestations which impact on different aspects of students’ lives; many self-motivated insomnia management strategies were apparent, with formal healthcare involvement being exceptional. This has implications for how students with sleep problems are supported during their academic study and provides unique insights which will be of value to those involved in student support such as academic and healthcare staff.

  • insomnia and management
  • university students
  • semi-structured interview

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