Australia, it's time to face the facts. We have a sleep problem and it's affecting how we live our lives.
Research by the Sleep Health Foundation has found between 33 and 45 per cent of Aussies have poor sleep patterns that lead to fatigue and irritability that's putting them at risk of low productivity, damage to their mental health and unsafe behaviours.
Work published in the Foundation's international Sleep Health Journal on Wednesday shows that sleep deprivation is becoming a national epidemic and hasn't been made the priority health issue that it should be.
Director of the Sleep Health Foundation, Dr David Hillman, said: "Just like obesity, smoking, drinking too much and not exercising enough, sleep problems cause real harm in our community. It's high time we moved this issue off the backburner to the forefront of national thinking.
"There is a false belief shared by a lot of us that sleep is a waste of time and that we can get away with less than we really need, but the truth is people who cut corners with their sleep function below their best. They are not as mentally sharp, as vigilant, as attentive or as patient as they would otherwise be."
Led by Professor Robert Adams at the University of Adelaide, the study of 1011 Australians found problems related to sleep came in the form of individuals suffering difficulty sleeping at least a few times a week or more, and also sleep-related issues throughout the day such as fatigue, which affects more than a third of adults.
The research also found there are key issues that affect Australians based on their gender.
Women are more likely to experience difficulty falling to sleep while also waking up too early with a feeling of exhaustion and irritation -- even if they sleep the same amount as a man.
For Australian males, diagnosed sleep disorders such as the night time breathing condition obstructive sleep apnea were a more common issue than for women.
For Dr Hillman, night time computer use was a major factor that resulted in the issues around sleeping that everyday Australians have been facing.
"Overall, 44 per cent of adults are on the internet just before bed almost every night and 59 per cent of these late night workers, web surfers, movie watchers or online gamers have more than two sleep problems," he said.
"The result is a less productive, less safe and less pleasant work and family environment... Accident risk goes up, workplace performance goes down and your mood, your heart and your blood pressure can all be affected."
And the most alarming part? It's getting worse.
The study found that the numbers of sleep problems among Australians are 5 to 10 per cent higher than when the Sleep Health Foundation published its last survey on sleep health in 2010.
According to the Foundation, this is having a follow-on effect into the everyday lives of Aussies, particularly when it comes to tasks such as driving a car and attending work.
The research showed that 29 per cent of adults drive while drowsy at least once a month, 20 per cent have nodded off at the wheel at some time and five per cent admitted having an accident in the past year because they dozed off.
Additionally, 21 per cent of men and 13 per cent of women admitted to having fallen asleep while at work in the past month.
You can check out some of the other key findings below.
- Average reported sleep time is 7 hours, although 12% sleep less than 5 ½ hours and 8% over 9 hours.
- Three-quarters of those who sleep less than 5 ½ hours report frequent daytime impairment or sleep-related symptoms.
- Frequent, loud snoring is reported by 24% of men and 17% of women. Among these, 70% report daytime impairment or other sleep-related symptoms.
- Almost a third of adults (29%) report making errors at work due to sleepiness or sleep problems within 3 months of the survey.
- 44% of adults (47% women, 40% men) are on the internet just before bed almost every night. Of these, 59% have two or more sleep problems.
For Dr Hillman, the solution is a simple one -- Australia needs to change its attitude towards sleep and get it back into the national health discussion.
"We need a fundamental change in the way sleep is viewed by everyone from teenagers, parents and teachers through to bosses, doctors and our top politicians," he said.
"This habit is having a direct and very negative impact on sleep and without a cohesive national strategy to combat it, this won't change."
Australia, it's time to go to bed.