Sleep is essential to an individual’s health and wellbeing and is a topic not to be taken lightly.
It’s an integral time in our day during which our bodies work to repair, recoup and prepare for the day’s work ahead.
Not only is our sleep a time to unwind physically, but mentally as well. As we sleep, our body works to repair muscle and strengthen itself, though it also regulates mood and stabilises hormones and emotions.
Without a great night’s sleep every night, we open our bodies to a higher risk of injury, a less happy day and far less productivity at school and work.
As we learn more about sleep, it’s becoming ever clearer that it’s the ‘activity’ that underpins everything in our lives. Without a proper sleep routine and good sleep hygiene, you’re really giving up a considerable portion of your life to a reduced life span, as well as reducing your levels of happiness throughout the day thanks to daytime sleepiness and potential mental health problems.
From various sleep studies, it’s now clear that a poor amount of sleep has severely detrimental impacts on millions of Australian each year, as research reveals that Aussies in all age groups are not sleeping enough overall.
Below we’ll take a look at some common sleeping disorders, the effects of insufficient sleep or sleep deprivation, the common symptoms associated and how companies and corporate investment in sleep are working to entice us all into a better night’s sleep.
Let’s take a look at Australia’s overall sleep trends.
Not Enough Sleep
Studies by the Sleep Health Foundation reveal that 33-45% of Australian respondents are experiencing poor sleeping patterns, which is increasing fatigue and irritability along with poor workplace performance and ability to prevent accidents.
While women are the ones more likely to wake up earlier and have more difficulty sleeping, overall 8% of adults are sleeping over 9 hours on average, and 12% are sleeping less than 5 ½ hours (Sleep Health Foundation).
Ultimately, the results are becoming more concerning every year with a total 10% rise in poor sleeping patterns and short sleep duration from 2010 to 2018, and an average of three thousand lives claimed by poor sleep per year.
As is revealed by various sleep studies, poor sleep or chronic lack of sleep results in an increase in everything from risk of illness, accident and early death. Factor in the issue of Australian’s getting poorer and poorer sleep and our ability to safely undertake work and daily actions like driving is significantly decreased.
Sleep Disorders and Sleep Problems
With insomnia continuing to be the most common sleep disorder, occurring in 23% of women and 17% of men (Sleep Health Foundation), there are other areas where individuals struggle with sleep. This includes Sleep Apnoea, Restless Legs Syndrome, Narcolepsy, as well as more general snoring and sleepwalking problems.
Current key statistics are:
– APF 2017 found that Sleep apnoea prevalence in Australia ranges from 9-38% based on age and gender, where it was present more in males and older individuals along with those fitting into the obesity weight level cohort.
– Narcolepsy is less common, but still affects 3 million people worldwide (Snore Australia), with Sleep Health Foundation reporting isolated sleep paralysis episodes affecting 15% of the Australian Population
– Sleepwalking was most commonly faced by children aged 6-12 years old
– Loud Snoring on a regular basis was evident in 24% of men and 17% of women (Sleep Health Foundation)
– MyDr (2019) reports that ‘About 5-15 per cent of people may have trouble getting to sleep because they suffer from restless legs syndrome (RLS)’
How do Australians Sleep?
The way individuals sleep can affect their posture, sleep quality and physical wellbeing over time. According to the National Sleep Foundation;
– 41% of Adults frequently sleep in the Foetal Position
– 7% of Adults frequently sleep on their stomach
– 8% of Adults frequently sleep on their back
– 15% of Adults frequently sleep on their side
Therefore, the majority of sleepers opting for the foetal position where the individual is on their side with knees bent and hunched torso, which increases circulation and reduces snoring.
However, the curl can create breathing difficulties and result in sorer joints. Whilst sleeping on one’s back is the healthiest option, only a small percentage of Australians are frequenting this position, which could be a contributing reason for the increase of individuals not sleeping enough.
The stomach position is the worst, due to the pressures placed on the neck and back leading to more aches as well as more severe nerve problems and, of course, inadequate sleep.
Other Reasons for Poor Sleep
Due to the increase in technology and an ever-connected digital world, it is becoming harder for individuals to switch off before bed to get the recommended amount of sleep. The increase in screen time particularly close to sleep time can create delays in falling asleep and increased anxiety.
‘Thinking about work’ was also among the highest reasons for a lack of sleep affecting 24% of individuals (Sleep Health Foundation).
According to VicHealth, 44% of people across all ages admitted to using their computers and phones before bed, which is linked directly to sleep issues.
Additionally, both worrying and illness/physical discomfort prevented Australians from sleeping, experienced by 51% and 27% of Australians respectively during a three-month study by Phillips Global Sleep Survey. Physical discomfort may be due to sleeping positions and mattress comfortability.
Over one-third of adults have more than four caffeinated drinks per day which can prevent their ability to wind down and sleep at the end of the day and increasing the risk of waking because of a sleep disturbance (Sleep Health Foundation).
Symptoms & Effects of Sleep Deprivation
Common symptoms of sleep deprivation revolve around;
– Constant yawning
– Sleep Inertia
– Poor Concentration
– Higher Irritability
– Lack of Motivation
– Forgetfulness or Memory Issues
– Increased Appetite
– Obstructive Sleep Apnea
Let’s take a look at these symptoms in a little more depth.
As we sleep, our brains work around the clock to consolidate our days, make new connections and in laymen’s terms — get ready for the day ahead. A night of poor sleep won’t only prohibit this memory consolidation, but will also impact our ability to pull on important information the following day.
If you’ve slept poorly the night before an exam, test or presentation at work, for example, you’re going to have a hard time pulling important information from memory and thus, be less productive and hinder your day’s work.
To add, sleep studies by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine have shown us that routine poor sleep can, in fact, damage long and short term memory formation — essentially preventing us from remember important details or even forgetting entire events.
As we all know, when we’re tired, we’re far clumsier and less are of what goes on around us — which becomes particularly troubling when we get behind the wheel of a vehicle. From data available to us “drowsy driving caused 72,000 crashes and 800 deaths in the United States,” alone, making it quite a severe problem.
According to APG, when Australians have a bad night of sleep, it significantly decreased their brain functioning in the areas of motivation (43%), concentration (35%) and mood (38%). Particularly, memory issues formed, and high blood pressure was a concern for individuals lacking sleep.
Moreover, 20-30% of all Australian fatal crashes were a result of fatigue (Allianz). Work-related accidents were also common due to the reduction in concentration and memory. When individuals are running low on sleep, their bodies may store more fat and they tend to gravitate towards unhealthy food alternatives, overall increasing the risks of obtaining type 2 diabetes.
Overeating and Appetite Changes
As is revealed by the Sleep Foundation, lack of sleep also greatly affects our appetite and amount we eat and at which time throughout the day.
First off, there is an increase of 300 calories or roughly 1,200kJ increase in food consumption by those who have sleep habits less than ideal during the night according to the Sleep Foundation, which immediately highlights the link between appetite, weight gain and inability to lose weight when we sleep poorly.
This appetite change is caused by the increased level of endocannabinoid in our body when we don’t sleep. This ‘endocannabinoid’ is a lipid, which is essentially the body’s way of making us want to eat more, and enjoy what we’re eating a lot more. Acting similarly to how marijuana causes the munchies, endocannabinoid also encourages to overconsumption of food when we’re sleep-deprived.
Data from Harvard’s Healthy Sleep website suggests that lack of sleep also contributes to fairly considerable switches in mood — and irritability in particular.
As we’re all aware, a bad night’s sleep makes us far more short-tempered, stressed and anxious than normal, and the science backs this up. The University of Pennsylvania’s study on sleep found that 4.5 hours of shut-eye caused participants to be a lot more angry, sad, stressed, exhausted and irritable than normal – showing that there wasn’t one particular mood generated by poor sleep, but rather an inability to regulate mood swings in all directions.
On top of irritability, mental health was also considerably affected by poor sleep. In fact, the study also outlined that up to 20 per cent of those who experienced routinely poor sleep will develop major or severe depression. That said, without a sleep routine that allows for a solid eight to nine hours, the risk of depression is alarmingly high.
Concentration and Performance
A statistic that might make business owners or CEOs quiver is the detrimental effect on concentration and performance — and rightly so.
Australians getting less than six hours of sleep per night are far less likely to be productive than their well-rested counterparts, costing businesses a tonne of money over the course of the year.
Sleep researchers measuring the quantitative effects of sleep deprivation of productivity have noted that sleep-deprived participants had a very low concentration level and found it near impossible to pay attention to tasks or focus on doing one thing at a time.
The impact was so severe that in some cases, the effect was outlined as simply ‘confusion.’
On top of a mental slowdown, judgment making was a lot poorer as was alertness which made getting behind the wheel of a car a lot less safe than is ideal. Statistics revealed that ‘at least 100,000 car crashes’ annually were as a direct result of poor sleep.
With all of the above impacts and dangers outlined, it’s important to understand the required amounts of sleep and quality levels of sleep suggested for people to get the most out of their time in bed.
The recommendations of sleeping lengths change per age and do not settle until the adult age of 20 years old. The changes must be accounted for when checking if individuals are sleeping enough, especially high school students who are more prone to late nights and early mornings;
– Adults: 7-9 hours
– Teenager: 8-11 hours
– Child 6-12: 9-12 hours
– Child 3-5: 10-13 hours
– Child 1-2 years: 11-14 hours
As we know, poor sleep and especially can have detrimental impacts on an individual’s health and without getting an in-depth look at how you’re sleeping, it can be hard to tell just how much sleep — and how much quality sleep — you’re getting each night.
A majority of the Aussie population struggles to get enough sleep, due to disorders such as chronic insomnia as well as poor sleeping trends, though companies like Apple have begun to stand in to combat this with new accessories, sleep aids, software and a gamification of sleep.
If individual sleep hygiene increases, including more comfortable sleeping positions, reducing screen time and attributing enough hours to sleep per night, some improvements can be made.
Economic Sleep Deprivation Statistics
During the 2016-17 financial year, a study of Australian business and the economy was undertaken with the aim of pinpointing the financial cost of poor sleep on the workforce.
As we know, performance at work is worryingly poor when we’ve not had enough sleep, and because of this businesses lose thousands to tens of thousands of dollars per year, which as a nation adds up to billions of dollars.
The results of the study showcased that the cost was suspected to be $45 billion in lost value on the Aussie economy as a whole.
A few insight include:
- The direct cost of sleep disorder management — $160 million
- The direct cost of conditions related to sleep disorders — $1.08 billion
- Financial losses related to reduced productivity at work — $12.19 billion
- Sleep-loss related to premature death cost — $610 million
- Employee sick day or inability to work — $1.73 billion
- Employee arrival to work, with little to no work taking place — $4.63 billion
- Financial losses related to accidents — $2.48 billion
- Non-financial costs related to poor well-being — $27.33 billion.
With those insights listed, sufferers from sleep deprivation or poorly rested Australians are contributing to a significant decline in the economic growth or sustainability of the nation’s economy.
The Sleep-health Economy
A look at the financial implications of sleep loss above, it’s not hard to see that there’s major room for improvement, and as a result – the sleep health economy is booming with world-leading corporations such as Apple joining the game.
As retailers across the globe look to cash in on the poor sleep epidemic, the industry has ballooned to $US40 billion and hasn’t shown signs of wavering just yet. With everything from noise generators, high-tech CPAP machines, smart blankets and more making an appearance, there’s a lot happening to get young adults to older adults more invested in their sleep.
A few of the products, services and solutions you’ll find appearing as a result of the sleep economy include:
The years of poorly designed, loud and uncomfortable spring mattresses are over and mattress brands are making big changes to get the attention of their sleep-deprived core demographics. Brands like Koala, Eva and Sleeping Duck for example have taken a deep dive into the $8 billion mattress market to create beds that are almost entirely proprietary, significant investment has also being made into Adjustable mattresses in Australia.
With custom-designed materials and accessories that improve breathability, sleep experience and promote sleep, these are some of the first companies to truly go all-in on sleep improvement.
As you might’ve noticed, Apple’s recently released watchOS 7 comes with built-in sleep tracking that is so myopically focused that it measures everything down to the ‘micro-movements’ our bodies make as our breathing shifts when we’re in REM sleep.
Not only Apple is investing in sleep either, with a tonne of sleep trackers hitting the market to quantify our hours of sleep in bed and entice us to get a good night’s sleep. A myriad of smartphone apps have also begun hitting the market to give us insight, encouragement and tips on sleeping better.
Prescription Medications and Treatment
It doesn’t come as a surprise that the sleep medication industry is booming during the sleep-loss epidemic, with treatment-based medications growing to well over a billion dollars in sales in the US this year.
There are also new medications and herbal treatments hitting the market such as melatonin which are making a splash online.
Statistically speaking, these treatments and medications are projected to grow their industries from $1 billion this year to over $10 billion by 2025. A sizeable growth outlook and a good indicator of what’s to come for the future of sleep.
Throughout the past decade, researchers have put sleep under the microscope in Australia and across the globe to find that Australians are sleeping far worse than is ideal. Up to 45 per cent of Aussies aren’t getting enough sleep, with 12 per cent getting fewer than six and even five hours per night.
Our most common sleep disorder continues to be chronic insomnia, with 17 per cent of men and 23 per cent of women in Australia routinely suffering from the condition.
Sleep studies have also pinpointed that a whopping 21 per cent of Aussies sleep in the foetal position, which is unideal when it comes to getting a good night’s sleep. Just 8 per cent of us sleep on our backs, which is the most ideal sleeping position for getting a quality night’s sleep.
Chronic pain also continues to be an issue for Australians looking to fall asleep, with 27 per cent of sleepers highlighting that pain keeps them from falling asleep or staying asleep each night.
The most common symptoms or issues associated with poor sleep include constant yawning, high irritability, clumsiness, and inability to focus and risk of overeating.
Ideal sleeping lengths remain at 7 to 9 hours for adults, 8 to 11 hours for teens and between 9 and 13 hours for younger children. Infants and very young children require at least 11 hours of sleep and up to 14 hours.
A fiscal analysis of the country’s economy has outlined that sleep costs Australia’s economy a considerable $45 billion annually.