To Sleep, Or Not To Sleep? A recap of the Sleep Health Inquiry

*There’s only one right answer to this question 

A lot can happen in a year… and a year can certainly change you a lot! Hopefully for the better (psst: here's how to kick-start your best life possible in 10 days).

Over the course of a year, what’s also certain is that you’ll take about 8.5 million breaths (more if you exercise); spend up to 541 hours eating and drinking; and sleep every 24 hours. Ideally, seven to nine hours per night, adding up to a maximum annual snooze load of 3,285 hours. 

 

What you should know about the Sleep Health Inquiry

However, as revealed in the findings of a bi-partisan Parliamentary Inquiry into Sleep Health Awareness in Australia – hailed a world-first in an under appreciated area of health and mental wellness – four in 10 Australians fall short of this benchmark, putting their health at serious risk.

That’s 7.4 million Australian adults who regularly don’t get enough sleep, with close to a quarter reporting their daily routine leaves insufficient time to squeeze in seven to nine hours’ quality sleep (required for cognitive and physical health). Disturbingly, 12% get by on less than 5.5 hours per night, which has the same effect on the brain as being drunk!

Equally alarming, a large group of Australian children and adolescents are also sleep deprived. The inquiry heard 24% of all children and 35% of those aged two and under ‘experience frequent problems sleeping’, while 70 per cent of teenagers (based on evidence from South Australia) ‘get insufficient sleep every school night’.

It’s just over a year since the sleep health inquiry released its findings, together with an 11-point action plan to address the nation’s sleep debt, in a publication aptly entitled Bedtime Reading

 

Taking the position that sleep is a fundamental, biological need, it sounded a welcome alarm bell on two fronts: 

  1. Sleep health has not received the attention it deserves within our community and in health programs run by state and federal governments. 
  2. Too many people think it’s a sign of ‘toughness’ and a badge of honour to be able to get by on less sleep, when the reality is such an approach does harm – in some cases with ‘very serious consequences’. Evidence shows insufficient sleep increases the risk of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular conditions and cancer, as well as impairing sound judgement, productivity and mental health. #EnoughSaid 

 

At The Goodnight Co., we share the sleep health inquiry’s informed position that quality, uninterrupted sleep is a fundamental human right, deserving of the same attention as nutrition and fitness. 

What’s more, on the back of our own research, spanning five years and including deep-dive surveys involving hundreds of Australians, we know quality sleep is the ultimate foundation to boost health and wellness. 

And, yes! A whole lot has happened in the past year; not least being the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, forever changing how we live, work, connect and play – and, by all accounts, further compounding the global epidemic of poor sleep. 

As the world starts to recover from this unprecedented period of uncertainty, it’s timely to step back and reconsider the sleep inquiry’s findings as we contemplate the ‘new normal’.

 

One thing’s for sure: quality sleep remains as important as ever. 

Here’s why…
 

Mental health: the ‘second wave’ crisis, post COVID-19 

The mental health fallout of COVID-19 is predicted to affect hundreds of thousands of people worldwide. That’s the warning by global experts, including in Australia, where national crisis support service, Lifeline, handled close to 90,000 calls in March alone (up 24 per cent over the same period last year).

Pre-dating COVID-19 anxiety, the sleep health inquiry found:

  • Sleep deprivation restricts resilience to deal with mental health issues and is associated with an increased risk of depression.
  • Poor sleep in young, healthy Australian women increases the risk of depression more than four-fold within a decade.
  • Research underlines a two-way relationship between sleep disturbance and neurodegenerative disease. Sleep plays ‘a critical role in clearing the brain of toxins’, and sleep disturbance is associated with ‘more rapid cognitive decline’.

 

To sleep or not to sleep? You decide.

  • Poor quality sleep impairs the function of every cell in your body, increasing the risk of chronic health conditions by 20 to 40 per cent, including cardiovascular diseases (hypertension, stroke, heart attack and arrhythmias); dementia (including more rapid progression of the disease); and increased prevalence of obesity, diabetes and some cancers. 
  • Sleep deprivation is linked to weight gain. Over time, this can lead to obesity: a risk factor for numerous cardiovascular and metabolic diseases (including Type 2 Diabetes), as well as onset of clinical sleep disorder, sleep apnoea. 
  • When sleep deprived, your body struggles to extract glucose from your blood stream and your brain is unable to function properly, effecting rational thinking, willpower, self-control, work productivity, judgement, mood, and interactions with others.

 

Work/life imbalance

  • Some workplaces ‘actively glorify lack of sleep and promote a culture of late-night work’. Research shows of the 22 per cent of people who work ‘in the hour before bed a few nights of the week or more’, 69 per cent have two or more sleep problems (significantly more than adults who do not work before bed).
  • About 16 per cent of Australian workers are shift workers and doubly at risk of accidents (likely sleep-related). The World Health Organisation classifies night shift work as a probable carcinogen, linked to increase incidence of breast and prostate cancer. Night shift workers get, on average, 25 to 33 per cent less sleep than day or evening shift workers.
  • A significant cause of inadequate sleep in young people is due to ‘work pressures or lifestyle choices that restrict sleep to create more time for work, family, social, and leisure pursuits, including social media’.

 

We’re too switched-on!

  • Almost half of Australian children regularly use screen-based devices at bedtime, with one in four reporting associated sleep problems.
  • The majority of young adults (aged 18 to 34) spend time on screens just before bed, making them vulnerable to poor sleep and sleep disturbances.
    • Artificial light (particularly blue light emitted by laptops, TVs and computer monitors) suppresses the sleep hormone, melatonin, which regulates your sleep-wake cycle.  

     

    Good housekeeping doesn’t equal good (sleep) hygiene

    • Common barriers to sleep involve bedrooms that are too hot or cold; interruptions by children; and external noise.
    • The burden of disease from environmental noise is the second highest after air pollution. Research in Western Europe shows at least one million healthy years of life are lost every year primarily due to sleep disturbance linked to traffic-related environmental noise.

     

    The real cost of sleep debt

    • In 2016-17, the total social and economic cost of inadequate sleep in Australia added up to $66.3 billion. 
    • In the same period, inadequate sleep resulted in 3,017 deaths: 77 per cent related to effects of inadequate sleep on heart conditions and 10 per cent due to motor vehicle accidents attributed to drowsy driving. A fifth of Australians report dozing off while driving and five per cent had a ‘motor vehicle accident in the past year because they dozed off or were too tired’.

     

    Now for the good news!

    Quality sleep is within your control. As the sleep health inquiry noted, behavioural changes – including dedicating time and space to the daily practice of sleep health routines – ‘can be an effective first step in resolving sleep issues’.

    At the Goodnight Co., we spend our waking hours curating innovative, evidence-based sleep health products and programs to help you harness the power of a sleep health routine, and create better days, through better sleep.

     

    “Sleep well, be well. This is our badge of honour because no-one can get by – let alone live their best life possible – on insufficient, poor quality sleep. Period.”
    Shea Morrison & Danielle Knight, Co-Founders, The Goodnight Co.

    Tags: Science