How many hours did you get?


Photo by Reynermedia

Sleeping on the job CC BY 2.0

Bridget Turner, Reporter

Are you getting enough sleep? That’s the age-old question. Although, it is no longer just about getting enough sleep but getting quality sleep.

The Federal Government commissioned an Inquiry into Sleep Health Awareness in Australia in 2018. The findings, tabled this month, included that 4 out of 10 Australians get insufficient sleep either daily or on several days of the week.

So why are Australians not getting a sufficient amount of sleep?

University of WA’s Centre for Sleep Science director Professor Peter Eastwood, who took part in the inquiry, agrees with the inquiry’s top recommendation that sleep needs to be made a priority. Alongside diet and exercise, it should become the third pillar of health.

Professor Eastwood claims that when it comes to drowsiness from lack of sleep, it can be likened to drink driving in its effects on performance and therefore should be treated as seriously.

While there is a general understanding that a lack of sleep can affect a multitude of health issues, in some cases, it can be in the reverse: some underlying health issue could be causing a lack of quality sleep.

The National Sleep Foundation updated its recommended sleep hours in 2015, after a two-year-long study that compiled research from numerous databases. The study found the recommended amount of sleep for the following ages are; children aged 6-13 need 9-11 hours, teens aged 14-17 need 8-10 hours, young adults 18-25 need 7-9 hours, and adults 26-64 need 7-9 hours.

Now, if you are someone who is getting the recommended amount of sleep for your age and yet you’re still waking up tired, this is when something else could be affecting your sleep.

Azra Zolfaghari, a senior sleep scientist at Perth Respiratory and Sleep Clinic who has been working in the field of sleep for 15 years, said she has seen a change in the types of people of coming in for sleep studies. At the beginning of her time there she would generally see older men coming in, whereas now it can range from young people to the elderly.

Sleep Apnea is a condition studied at the sleep clinic. What is it, you ask? Well, the simplest understanding is that it is a disruption to your airways when sleeping. This can be caused by many things. However, whatever the reason, it causes you to stop breathing for a few seconds until your body wakes you up enough to breath again. As a result of the disrupted sleep, those with sleep apnea do not get sufficient amounts of sleep.

Zolfaghari explained that generally those who come in for sleep studies tend to have underlying conditions causing sleep apnea. To go for a sleep study you have to be referred by your doctor. Obesity is a factor that can cause sleep apnea, and with the rise of obesity, those who are overweight are often sent to have a sleep study if they complain to their GP about fatigue and tiredness. Type 2 diabetes, hypertension and blood pressure can also be among the reasons to get a sleep study.

When Zolfaghari was asked about sleep apnea in young adults and teenagers she said sleep paralysis is more common. In the simplest terms sleep paralysis is when you wake up but are unable to move or breathe comfortably. Each person with sleep paralysis feels different effects.

However, when considering the lack of quality sleep, students face another issue which could be the cause: blue light. Whether you have heard of this problem or not, I can pretty much guarantee you are exposed to it. We are exposed to blue light when we look at our electronics, such as phones, tablets and laptops. When it is said that you should switch off all electronics 30 minutes to an hour before bed, this is why.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, blue light has a short wavelength that affects the levels of melatonin more than any other wavelength. So why is this important? Well, our bodies release melatonin a couple of hours before bed, because it helps us to feel sleepy. By using electronics right up to bedtime, or even in bed, we are hindering the release of that melatonin.

This then causes a delay in the release, meaning it takes longer for us to fall asleep, and results in less REM sleep: the time when we dream. As a result, you tend to wake up feeling sleepy and lack energy for the day.

When it comes to insufficient sleep there are many factors to consider, but it is important to note that if you are putting the electronics away and getting enough hours of sleep, and yet still feeling tired, you should see your doctor as there could be an underlying issue causing you to be tired.

It is important that we start to take our sleep health seriously and make sure we are not ignoring warning signs.