Science: Australians Are Not Getting Enough Sleep: A Look Inside the Effects of Mass Insomnia

A 2016 survey by the Sleep Health Foundation (SHF) has revealed that 33 to 45% or almost half of the adult population in Australia suffer from inadequate sleep.

The Australasian Sleep Association says the number is closer to 35% or at least a third of the adult population.

Whether it’s not getting enough hours of sleep or sleeping poorly on a regular basis, inadequate sleep inevitably leads to certain consequences.

Some are these are immediately felt in the morning, like lethargy, impaired memory and cognition, unstable mood, and slower reflexes. If left untreated, years of inadequate sleep can lead to increasingly more dangerous consequences like diabetes, increased blood pressure, and even heart attacks.

As you can imagine, because these consequences affect a significant number of adults across Australia, this comes at a significant cost to the nation.

Sleep Disorders Cost Australia $5.1 Billion Per Year

Yes, you read that correctly.

In a study that was commissioned by the SHF, the national economic cost of sleep disorders was pegged at $5.1 billion annually.

A big chunk of that ($4.3 billion) is attributed to associated losses in productivity as well as non-medical costs due to incidents related to lack of sleep. This includes workplace accidents, public health expenditure, and of course the notorious amount of vehicular accidents that happen due to sleepy people getting behind the wheel.

Meanwhile, health care costs for medical conditions that stem from sleep disorders comprise a smaller chunk at $540 million, and medical costs for treating sleep disorders themselves comprise just $270 million.

These account for the broader economic costs of sleep disorders, but it’s not even a full picture of the true cost.

The study also took into account how people who have sleep disorders (like sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, and insomnia) generally enjoy a lower quality of life mainly because of the threat of increased morbidity (premature death).

Using a formula that took into account disability adjusted life years (DALYs) lost due to sleep disorders, researchers found that the total national cost of ‘lost wellbeing’ could be estimated to around $23.5 billion to $36.8 billion. While this is not a direct economic cost to the country, it represents a significant loss in Australia’s stock of health capital.

The Intensity of Modern Life is What’s Ruining Our Sleep

Experts seem to agree that this sleep pandemic is due to the tough demands of modern life.

As explained by Australiasian Sleep Association president Dr Maree Barnes, today’s fast-paced lifestyles can lead to poor sleep quality, which means that we could have a greater need for sleep as compared to our ancestors.

In fact, while America’s National Sleep Foundation recommends 7 to 9 hours of nightly sleep for most adults, a 2015 study has found that humans who still live traditional hunter-gatherer lifestyles only sleep for an average of 6.5 hours nightly without consequence to their health.

This data comes from studying the sleeping patterns of 94 people from 3 preindustrial societies from the countries of Bolivia, Namibia, and Tanzania.

Researchers found that none of these 3 societies even had a word for the concept of insomnia. More importantly, while geographically separated, the regular healthy sleeping duration of each person studied averaged at 5.7 to 7.1 hours.

Some experts speculate that this is because these hunter-gatherers are not subjected to the stress that comes with modern amenities and work culture, and therefore need less hours to recover from daily activities.

Meanwhile, back in the modern world, there’s actual evidence that sleeping for less than 6 hours per night can mess with the activity of over 700 genes that control highly vital functions to the body: like metabolism, immune function, stress response, and our natural sleep wake cycles.

It could explain why long-term sleep deprivation leads to a host of serious, life-threatening conditions – consequences that those who live less stressful preindustrial lives seem to be immune to.

It’s Not Too Late: You Can Achieve and Sustain Healthy Sleep

We’re not saying quit your job and live as a hunter-gatherer in the bush (although a weekend of camping would probably do some good to your sleep patterns).

While science coldly presents us with the dire truth about sleep and modern life, you can also count on it to provide different solutions.

Thanks to how common sleep disorders are, not just here but on an international scale, there’s no shortage of effective, scientific anti-insomnia solutions available to anyone online.

You can also volunteer your time to the Sleep Health Foundation. Australian sleep researchers are always on the lookout for people with various sleep disorders and sleep-related conditions to volunteer for medical trials and studies.

Apart from contributing to the wealth of research on treating sleep disorders, volunteering to the SHF could allow you to find the solution to what’s been keeping you up at night.

If you’re part of the 33 to 45% of Aussie adults suffering from some form of insomnia, know that you are not alone. Science is on your side (along with millions of other insomniacs).