Sleep problems and sleep restriction are popular topics of discussion, but few representative data are available. We document Britain's sleep based on a nationally representative sample of 1997, 16–93 year olds, who participated in face-to-face interviews. Fifty-eight per cent of respondents reported sleep problems on one or more nights the previous week and 18% reported that the sleep they obtained was insufficient on the majority of nights. Sleep durations were longest in the youngest participants (16–24 years), who slept on average 1 h longer than the 7.04 (SD 1.55) sample average. Sleep duration showed no appreciable change beyond middle age. Men and women reported sleeping similar amounts but women reported more sleep problems. Men reported sleeping less when there were more children in their household. Workers (i.e. employees) reported sleeping less on workdays than on non-workdays, but those based at home and those not employed did not. Inability to switch off from work was related to sleep duration on non-workdays. Across all participants average sleep duration exhibited a non-monotonic association with quality of life (i.e. contribution of sleep to energy, satisfaction and success in work, home and leisure activities). Quality of life was positively associated with sleep duration, for durations up to 9 h, but negatively associated with quality of life beyond this. Comparison of our data with the US national sleep poll revealed that Britain sleeps as little or less, whereas a comparison with data reported 40 years ago revealed no statistically reliable reductions. Although we may not sleep less than four decades ago, when we report sleeping less we also tend to associate that lack of sleep with poor performance and quality of life.