Feeling tired and irritable? Then you may be one of the many Australians in the grip of a national sleep deprivation epidemic, according to the Sleep Heath Foundation. Newly published results from a national survey last year found a third to almost half of adults sleep poorly or not long enough most nights.
The Foundation claims this is dragging down Australia’s productivity, damaging mental health and risking safety. The research published in the international Sleep Health Journal also showed alarmingly high rates of Internet use before bed - particularly among women - with one in five people admitting they’ve nodded off while driving. Awake now?
Seventeen per cent of people in the study reported missing work in the past month because they were sleepy, and the same percentage had fallen asleep at work.
While most people sleep about seven hours a night, according to the research, the Foundation says the majority of adults need seven to nine hours. Twelve per cent of adults sleep less than five-and-a-half hours a night. Of those people, three quarters reported frequent daytime impairment or sleep-related symptoms.
While some daytime fatigue is due to lifestyle choices and shift work, common sleep disorders can also pose serious health risks. Sleep disorders include insomnia, snoring, narcolepsy and obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA). If you suspect you or a family member may have a sleep disorder, see your doctor. However, if your daytime sleepiness is due to your lifestyle or poor habits, you might like to practise the sleep hygiene tips below.
DO aim for 7-9 hours (adults)
DO have a regular sleep pattern – wake up and go to bed at consistent times each day if possible
DO wind down and relax for an hour before bed – have a warm milk drink an hour before bed, take a warm bath, read quietly
DO go to the loo before bed
DO get comfortable for sleep
DO get some sunlight during the day
DO turn your mobile phone to its “Do Not Disturb” setting if you must have it beside you at night. Just set it up so you can receive emergency calls from family overnight.
DO avoid alcohol and caffeine, especially in the evening.
DON’T go to bed hungry or too full
DON’T have technology in the bedroom over night – light from electronic devices disrupts sleep.
DON’T have naps during the day if possible
DON’T exercise just before bed
DON’T use electronic devices for at least an hour or two before bed. The blue light from some screens suppresses a sleep-promoting hormone called melatonin.
DON’T stay in bed if you can’t sleep after 20 minutes. Go to another darkened room and sit quietly. Engage in a quiet activity such as reading if you feel very alert. Go back to bed only when you are sleepy.
Poor sleep can affect your mood, daytime alertness and concentration, thinking ability, productivity and safety. If you practise good sleep hygiene but still experience fatigue and tiredness during the day, see your GP. It’s important to detect and treat sleep disorders as a priority.
Your doctor will investigate the cause of your sleep problems and may arrange for further tests, initiate treatment, or refer you to a specialist.
DID YOU KNOW?
Sleep deprivation affects children differently than adults. They tend to speed up when sleepy rather than slow down. Not getting enough sleep may mean a child is hyperactive or ‘explodes’ at the slightest provocation. They may be naughty and concentrate poorly in school, getting lower grades than classmates who get more sleep. Primary school children and teenagers typically need about nine to 10 hours of sleep a night.
Sleep apnoea: snoring is no joke
Obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) is more common than you think, with about one in four men aged over 30 experiencing the condition. If you have OSA, you may snore, toss and turn (think Homer Simpson), and your partner may notice you stop breathing during the night.
However Cardiac and Respiratory Physician Dr Noel Bayley, who consults fortnightly at rooms at Campaspe Family Practice, says the condition often remains undiagnosed. Dr Bayley says this is a concern because sleep apnoea is linked to other serious medical conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and heart rhythm disorders.
Obstructive sleep apnoea occurs when the walls of the throat come together, blocking the airway above the voice box and stopping breathing for a period of time. Repeated episodes of partial or complete obstruction of the throat during sleep cause blood oxygen levels to fall. This may occur hundreds of times overnight, without the person realising.
This pattern leads to poor concentration and slower reaction times at work, and an increased likelihood of accidents. The Sleep Heath Foundation reports people with OSA are two and a half times more likely to have a motor vehicle accident.
Dr Bayley says standard signs and symptoms of OSA include snoring, temporary suspension of breathing reported by a partner, unrefreshing sleep despite a good amount of sleep, daytime fatigue and sleepiness. However the best way to diagnose the condition is with overnight sleep monitoring that detects brainwave, heart and breathing patterns, oxygen saturation and carbon dioxide levels.
The good news for local people with sleep concerns is that they can have their sleep monitored at home. Dr Bayley’s wife Yve is a sleep study technician and prepares people for sleep monitoring at the practice. She attaches monitoring bands and electrodes to patients and instructs them about other devices they will need to apply themselves before sleep that night. The monitors can also provide information such as whether a person is sleeping on their back or side, and it can detect signs of restless leg syndrome.
Once the patient returns the equipment to the clinic the next morning, the sleep data collected is downloaded and couriered to St Vincent’s Hospital Sleep Disorders Centre in Melbourne for analysis. Dr Bayley has the results of the study in 10 days.
Many, but not all, people with OSA are overweight. Alcohol, especially in the evening, is also a contributing factor. Treatment for OSA may include a weight loss or alcohol reduction program, sleeping position adjustment, dental devices, and continuous positive airway pressure therapy (CPAP). Dr Bayley says there are a good range of CPAP devices available in Kyneton.
If you believe you or your partner may have a sleep disorder, call 5422 2877 to make an appointment to speak to your GP - or click here.
Dr Bayley is also honorary medical advisor for East Timor Hearts Fund, Australia's only medical NGO giving young Timor-Leste heart patients a second chance at life.