Hunter sleep expert shares advice as report shows cost of poor sleep in Australia

Apr 29 2021

One bed should really only be a place for sex and sleep, as TVs, smartphones and laptops in the bedroom can hinder quality slumber, a Hunter researcher says.

HMRI researcher Dr Gemma Paech, a senior sleep scientist at John Hunter Hospital, said the key to getting a better night's sleep often came down to consistency, some calm, tech-free time before bed, and creating a bedroom environment conducive to sleep.

Her advice comes as a new report released by the Sleep Health Foundation estimates that poor sleep costs Australia $14.4 billion each year in financial costs, with a further $36.6 billion in non-financial costs related to loss of well-being.

Written by Deloitte Access Economics, the report calculated productivity losses at $11 billion in 2019-2020 - mainly due to three major sleep disorders including obstructive sleep apnoea, insomnia and restless legs syndrome. About one-in-10 Australians have a sleep disorder that can effect their health, well-being, safety and productivity.

But for those just generally prone to erratic or disrupted sleep, "social jetlag" and even some anxiety around how much sleep they are getting - or not, Dr Paech shared a few strategies that may help.

"Go to bed and get up around the same time each day, including the weekend," Dr Paech said. "When it comes to sleep, our bodies like a state of balance. The more regularity you have, the better."

Dr Paech said a healthy adult should aim for around seven-to-nine hours of sleep within a 24-hour period.

Anyone getting six or less hours a night is probably not getting enough. Those getting more than 9.5 hours may be getting too much, or may even have an underlying condition.

"It varies depending on age," she said. "Young children, adolescents and even young adults up to about 25 years, need considerably more than that.

"As we get older, over 65, some might not need as much - but the recommendation is still six-to-seven hours."

Dr Paech said naps should be limited to less than 30 minutes, and not too close to bed time to allow the body to accumulate "sleep pressure".

"The other thing with napping - don't get a little too comfortable," she said.

"Having a nap on the couch with some sunlight and sounds, rather than the bed where you can get a little too comfy and fall asleep for hours, might help to keep it short without impacting night time sleep.

"It's normal to have waxes and wanes in our sleep quality. It is when it becomes more than three or four times a week, frequently, when you might look at changing some of your sleep habits or going to see a medical professional for advice."

Dr Paech said the Sleep Health Foundation has some excellent online resources, but here are some of her key tips:

  1. Have a consistent sleep routine. Go to bed around the same time, and wake up around the same time every single day of the week, including weekends where possible. Consistency and getting enough sleep through the week will help avoid "social jetlag" when you do have later nights.
  2. Long sleep-ins probably do more damage than good. Set your alarm, even on weekends, if you tend to sleep in for hours.
  3. Naps - keep them less than 30 minutes. And not too close to bedtime.
  4. Sleep anxiety? Try not to worry. "You could try writing it down on a piece of paper, maybe keep a notebook next to your bed, and if you find yourself ruminating and worrying about things, write it down, so you can think about it tomorrow."
  5. Get up to calm down. "When it comes to anxiety around sleep, if you're lying there feeling frustrated, it can make it even harder to go to sleep. Get out of bed, do something relaxing in almost darkness. Don't turn on all the lights. Perhaps just use a lamp to read a book or have a cup of herbal tea to calm down, then go back to bed when you're feeling calm."
  6. Practice mindfulness. "You have to try to stop counting the hours and go, 'Ok, I'm struggling to fall asleep. It won't be the end of the world tomorrow if I haven't had quite enough sleep. A bit of mindfulness can help you try to accept the problem. A few nights a week isn't going to be a huge issue. But if it persists, seek help from a professional who can give more targeted advice.
  7. Wind down before bed. Allow a "buffer" of half an hour to an hour to get yourself ready for bed. Avoid watching anything too stimulating on TV. Have a warm drink, a shower, read. "Start having a period of time where you relax and reduce your electronic use as much as possible."
  8. Make sure your bedroom environment is set up for sleep. Keep it dark, quiet and comfortable. "We say that bed should really only be for sex and sleep. Anything else should not be done in your bedroom if you can avoid it - things like watching TV, being on your phone, working - we'd advise to do that in another room where possible."

Originally published in The Newcastle Herald