Most Australians aren’t getting enough sleep — and it’s slowly killing them.
Most Australians aren’t getting enough sleep — and it’s slowly killing them.

Big problem with six hours sleep

AUSTRALIANS aren't getting nearly enough sleep each night - and it's slowly killing us.

Experts have warned of the major health, social and economic consequences of inadequate sleep, saying many people are suffering a kind of permanent jet lag as a result.

It also leads to lower productivity and can increase the risk of serious illnesses such as diabetes, stroke, heart disease, obesity and depression.

And the Sleep Health Foundation estimates poor sleep claims the lives of 3000 people a year.

"The cost of sleep deprivation is utterly alarming and confirms we need to take urgent action to put sleep on the national agenda," the foundation's chair Professor Dorothy Bruck said.

 

Health experts want lack of sleep, which has enormous social, health and economic implications, to be put on the national agenda.
Health experts want lack of sleep, which has enormous social, health and economic implications, to be put on the national agenda.

 

Research by Deloitte Access Economics in 2017 found more than seven million people don't get enough shut-eye, with a cost to the economy of $66 billion.

"The numbers are big, the personal and national costs are big, and their consequences should not be ignored," Professor Bruck said.

DANGEROUS SLEEP LEVELS

On average, Australians get 6.5 hours of sleep a night, but 12 per cent clock up 5.5 hours or less.

Up to 45 per cent of people have poor sleep patterns and the number of health issues caused has risen by up to 10 per cent since 2010.

A study published in the medical journal Sleep found that six hours or less of slumber could be just as bad as not sleeping at all.

Nicholas Breust usually gets between six and seven hours of sleep a night and while he functions well during the day, he said he often feels tired after work.

"I only had four hours sleep on Thursday night as I went to bed late, and I was up early for a flight on Friday," the 34-year-old insurance worker said.

"I was fine until late morning when tiredness hit me."

 

Nicholas Breust says he normally gets about six hours of sleep a night.
Nicholas Breust says he normally gets about six hours of sleep a night.

 

Some of the common causes of lack of sleep include stress, disorders like sleep apnoea, lifestyle factors and the use of screened devices in the bedroom.

Dr David Hillman, a director at the Sleep Health Foundation, said extreme lack of sleep is on the same par as smoking when it comes to public health consequences.

"Just like obesity, smoking, drinking too much and not exercising enough, sleep problems cause real harm in our community," he said.

 

Research shows up to 45 per cent of people have poor sleep patterns. The health consequences of lack of sleep have risen by 10 per cent in eight years.
Research shows up to 45 per cent of people have poor sleep patterns. The health consequences of lack of sleep have risen by 10 per cent in eight years.

 

Among the various potential implications are cardiovascular disease, obesity and mental illness. Sleep deprivation can also impair cognition, causing memory loss and lower concentration.

Worryingly, the foundation's research found one-in-five people say they've nodded off while driving.

MAJOR SOCIAL IMPLICATIONS

Research released today found sleepless nights are making people less social - and that loneliness can spread to others.

The University of California study, published in the journal Nature Communications, found a lack of sleep is associated with social withdrawal.

"When evaluated on psychological tests of sociability, sleep-deprived subjects avoided other people and sleep deprivation led to hypersensitivity in brain regions that warn of human approach," researchers found.

"Moreover, (well-rested) participants rated themselves as feeling significantly lonelier after watching video footage of the sleep-deprived individuals … suggesting those who come into contact with someone who is sleep-deprived (may) feel lonelier."

 

Australian research released last month found one-in-three people suffer "social jet lag" as a result of poor sleep behaviours.

"That's a large chunk of our population whose body clocks are out of alignment, a problem known to negatively impact health and wellbeing," said Professor Robert Adams, the study's lead researcher and sleep specialist with the University of Adelaide.

MENTAL HEALTH CRISIS

Inadequate sleep is strongly related to the prevalence of mental illness in all age groups, but especially in young people, Peter Eastwood from the University of Western Australia said.

In people aged 12 to 24, sleep disturbance is the fourth most common mental health issue reported, he said.

This is worrying because teenagers require more sleep to function healthily.

Young people are developing poor bedtime habits, which could have dire long-term consequences, VicHealth chief executive officer Jerril Rechter said.

"Not getting enough sleep can really mess with all of us but young people in particular are at risk of a range of mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, low self-esteem and mood issues," Ms Rechter said.

 

Young people are developing bad bedtime habits, such as using screened devices before sleep.
Young people are developing bad bedtime habits, such as using screened devices before sleep.

 

"Our report also found that sleep problems during childhood and as a teenager can lead to depression later in life.

"Sadly poor sleep is also associated with suicidal thoughts in teenagers so it's really critical we support young people to get the sleep they need."

The use of screened devices in the bedroom and before sleep is having an impact. Across all ages, 44 per cent of people admitted to using their phones or computers before bed.

But young people are especially bad, Ms Rechter said.

"There's no denying that devices are a part of our life but our research found a simple step like putting away your phone an hour before bed can lead to more sleep and a better quality sleep."



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