It has been the subject of a parliamentary inquiry, as well as decades of campaigning, and it has been described as a national emergency.
Yet sleep still doesn’t get enough attention, says Moira Junge, sleep disorders expert and CEO of the Sleep Health Foundation.
Dr. Junge wants sleep to be treated as a community health priority – urgently.
Sleep health is a key indicator of overall health, she says, and should therefore be “a national priority”.
We should talk more about sleep “in schools, in the workplace [and in] family conversations around the table,” Dr. Junge told ABC RN’s Life Matters.
A 2018-2019 parliamentary inquiry into sleep health determined it was “a national emergency and recommended[ed] that the government is prioritizing sleep health,” she says.
“But then COVID hit and, of course, state and federal governments — the health departments, in particular — were rightly focused on protecting us from COVID.
Now, says Dr. Junge, “we really desperately want to put it back on the agenda.”
The “dangerous precipice” of lack of sleep
Sleep was already an issue for Australians before the COVID pandemic. Since then, he’s taken a new hit, says Dr. Junge.
“In Australia, like around the world, we have seen adverse effects on our sleep,” she says.
The Sleep Survey report found that around four in ten Australians do not get enough sleep, due to sleep disorders or work and lifestyle pressures.
He also said that regular insufficient sleep is associated with an increased risk of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer.
American sleep expert Matthew Walker agrees that the sleep problem is getting worse.
The University of California, Berkeley neuroscience professor and author of Why We Sleep, says not only is overall sleep health in poor shape, but the numbers for the most common sleep disorder, insomnia, ” seem to be on the rise.”
It’s an increase he says is largely attributable to lifestyle factors.
Higher levels of anxiety and stress correspond to a higher risk of insomnia. Other “aspects of modernity” such as “excessive exposure to too much caffeine, too much alcohol at night” and “the invasion of technology in the bedroom [which] had a marked impact on our lack of sleep” also bring this increased risk.
Professor Walker says this is a concern because insomnia is associated with “a higher risk of stroke, heart attack, depression and… Alzheimer’s disease”.
“I don’t want to scare people. I know those are scary statistics. But I think it means there is hope here because insomnia is a treatable condition,” he says.
The “image problem” of sleep
Professor Walker says there’s a strange disconnect between the priority we assign to a child’s sleep and how we view sleep as adults.
At this stage of life, he says, “sleep has an image problem”.
“When you look at a child or a baby sleeping during the day, no one looks at that baby and says, ‘My God, what a lazy baby.’ is fundamentally important. It is not negotiable.
But somewhere between childhood and adulthood, “we let go of the idea that sleep is important. And instead, we celebrate our lack of sleep. It’s almost this kind of macho attitude to sleep, this bragging component. And it’s remarkably reckless,” says Professor Walker.
He also argues that we have forgotten how to fall asleep.
“A lot of us jump in bed at night and think that sleep should be like a light switch; that as soon as we jump in bed and our head hits the pillow, we should be off like a light.”
“Sleep isn’t like that as a biological process. Sleep is a lot more like trying to land an airplane. It takes time for your biology and physiology to gradually descend to solid ground from good sleep. the night.”
And, just like with children, a relaxation routine is “essential” for adults who want to sleep better, he says.
Like Prof Walker, Dr Junge is keen not to “alarm people who have trouble sleeping”.
“But it’s very difficult. It’s a tricky conversation to have because I want the evidence out there.”
She would like to see a national sleep health awareness campaign, as well as sleep education in schools and the curriculum, a sleep helpline and more training for healthcare professionals on treatment. sleep problems.
She says helping people understand sleep solutions is as important as raising issues associated with sleep deprivation.
“There are a lot of really good treatments out there,” says Dr. Junge, citing fact sheets from the Sleep Health Foundation.
And when it comes to getting sleep more prominently on the national agenda, she says, as with public health changes around smoking, sometimes you have to “play the long game.”
“I’ve been in health for a long time and I’ve seen what we’re doing with smoking. I never would have thought in the 1990s that we [would have] come so far with [things like] no smoking in public places.”
She recalls that during her nursing career in the 1990s, “people were smoking in hospitals. We were bringing in long-term patients for a cigarette. And there was smoke on planes.”
“It seemed to change overnight, but that was decades of lobbying.”
Likewise, “mental health hasn’t been recognized for a long time” as a health priority, she says.
“We didn’t really talk about mental health, but now it certainly does.
“I think we’re at the same precipice with integrating sleep health into all health and safety conversations.”
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