The Australian Parliament’s House Standing Committee on Health, Aged Care and Sport recently released initial findings from its Inquiry into Sleep Health Awareness in Australia. The report includes many important findings concerning Australian health and wellbeing.
Here are 5 important takeaways for you and Australians:
- Australia’s sleep health needs national prioritisation.
Australians’ misunderstanding and underappreciation of sleep is so critical, the number 1 recommendation of the report was to declare sleep a “national priority”. 7.4 million Australians are regularly not gaining the recommended amount of sleep, which is concerning because insufficient sleep is known to cause “motor vehicles crashes”, “industrial disasters”, “medical and other occupational errors” and contributed to 3017 deaths in Australia in 2016-2017. Inadequate sleep is also linked to serious health issues such as heart disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer, Alzheimer’s, depression and a shorter life span. All this impacts the health, wellbeing and productivity of Australians to an estimated cost of $66.3 billion annually.
- Sleep is one of the three pillars of good health along with nutrition and physical exercise.
“Sleep is a fundamental human need and, along with nutrition and physical exercise, it is one of the three pillars of good health”, opens Mr Trent Zimmerman MP, Chair of the Inquiry. However, it’s often overlooked and ignored despite the increasingly clear link between insufficient sleep, chronic illness, reduced productivity and even death.
We’ve all heard about nutrition and exercise, but just how overlooked is sleep in Australia? Shockingly, the report reveals that sleep has been overlooked at the highest levels of Australian heath governance, stating, “The Committee is concerned that the Department of Health does not have any policy or community awareness programs on sleep health”.
- Dangerous work cultures: Shift work and seeing insufficient sleep as “a sign of ‘toughness’ and a badge of honour… does harm— in some cases with very serious consequences”.
The 2nd Recommendation of the report concerned the key issue of better supporting shift workers, who’re often employed in safety critical occupations such as healthcare, road transport, and mining. Still unknown to many, in 2007 the World Health Organisation classified night shift work as a probable carcinogen due to circadian disruption.
Another key cultural challenge we face is conflating achievement with getting minimal sleep. There are still some organisations actively glorifying lack of sleep and promoting a culture of late-night work. A pattern echoed by the Sleep Health Foundation, who cautioned that this ‘attitude of wearing short sleep as a badge of honour … needs to change.’ The mistake arises from the lack of corporate awareness that working late can be likened to working drunk. Almost two decades ago, a key study demonstrated that after working 17-19 hours without sleep, peoples’ performance levels drop to the equivalent of blood alcohol concentration levels of 0.1%, twice the limit of Australia’s drink driving standards.
- Adults need “between 7 and 9 hours of quality sleep… for healthy cognitive and physical health”
Because sleep is as fundamental as nutrition and exercise, if you’re one of the 7.4 million Australian’s getting insufficient sleep, now is the time to focus on first discovering whether you have any high risk conditions (such as obstructive sleep apnoea, restless legs syndrome and insomnia), and then getting the right amount of quality sleep.
For adults, that’s between 7 and 9 hours each night. For school children, between 9 and 11 hours each night. And for adolescents, between 8 and 10 hours, each night. Getting enough sleep is important for your own health. But it’s also important for your family and fellow Australians who might suffer the negative consequences of mistakes you’re more likely to make if under slept.
- “Adequate sleep is essential for mental health and wellbeing”
The report highlighted the connection between mental health and sleep, stating that “adequate sleep is essential for mental health and wellbeing and inadequate sleep has been associated with increased rates of depression and the development of dementia.” Research shows that people getting 5 hours or less sleep, when compared to those getting the recommended 7 to 9 hours, are 3.5 times more likely to commit suicide, 3.25 times more likely to experience anxiety and 1.31 times more likely to get depression.
For further advice & support with sleep see our Wellness Apps page: https://eapassist.com.au/wellness-apps/