CHRONIC lack of sleep is becoming Australia’s biggest health crisis — creating a nation of zombies and costing $36 billion a year.
The epidemic of sleeplessness is responsible for road deaths, workplace accidents, loss of productivity, failure at school and life-threatening medical conditions ranging from depression to type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
One-in-three Australians, from time-poor families to teenage “screen addicts”, do not get enough rest.
Aimee Le Roux and Adriaan Henning are typical of many young Sydney couples — they work long hours and are saving for a house deposit and both agree they do not get enough sleep.
And the startling numbers are increasing.
Adolescents are the most sleep-deprived group at 80 per cent, but almost half of primary school children do not get enough rest. Up to 45 per cent of adults need more shut-eye too.
Analysis by Deloitte Access Economics found poor sleep is a factor in more than 10 per cent of depression cases, 5.3 per cent of stroke cases, 4.5 per cent of workplace injuries and 4.3 per cent of motor vehicle accidents.
In an exclusive report for The Saturday Telegraph, the Medibank Better Health Index reveals the “incidence of anxiety, depression and stress is twice as high among those suffering from sleep disorders”. It shows those affected by sleep disorders also have a higher body mass index than the general population and are found to be less likely to exercise.
“Being awake for 17 hours has a similar effect as blood alcohol (reading) above the legal limit.”
“No matter what age you are fatigue and sleepiness can affect how well you think, react, work and get along with others,” Medibank medical adviser Dr Sue Abhary said.
Internationally recognised sleep expert Dr Carmel Harrington said Australians “forget sleep is a fundamental part of our wellbeing”.
“A major concern is people’s attitude towards sleep despite being aware they aren’t getting enough,” she said. “They say, ‘I’ll sleep when I’m dead’, because they have too many more important things to do.”
Mother-of-three Kylie Notaras is no stranger to sleepless nights. Picture: Jonathan Ng
Data shows fatigue is the second biggest killer on NSW roads. More than 80 people were killed on the road last year due to fatigue and 20 fatigue-related deaths have been logged this year, Centre for Road Safety executive director Bernard Carlon said.
“Being awake for 17 hours has a similar effect as blood alcohol (reading) above the legal limit,” Mr Carlon said.
“Crashes due to tiredness are twice as likely to be fatal simply because drivers who are asleep can’t brake.”
Sleep researchers have also uncovered disturbing new trend — a “bubble” in the numbers of young adults showing up with sleep problems linked to obesity.
Professor David Hillman of the Sleep Health Foundation said an increase in “chubby” 20-year-olds, who are susceptible to sleep apnoea, is responsible for the spike.
What to do when you wake up in the middle of the night.
The three major conditions — sleep apnoea, insomnia and restless legs syndrome — cost the nation $5 billion annually, including $3 billion in lost productivity. But the total price to the community of flow-on effects and loss of quality of life has been estimated by Deloitte at $36.4 billion a year.
The latest Sleep Health Foundation survey found 12 per cent of adults get fewer than five-and-a-half hours’ sleep with three-quarters of them reporting “frequent daytime impairment”.
Almost a quarter report their weekday routine does not allow them to get enough sleep. Almost 30 per cent admit driving while drowsy and 20 per cent to “nodding off” while driving.
Growing numbers of sleep-deprived teens have been warned they are endangering their health by loading up on caffeine and sugar-laden energy drinks to stay awake.
General manager of Brewtown Newtown, Stephen Corbett, with the “wake-up juice”. He has seen customers order progressively stronger brews. Picture: Jonathan Ng
Mother-of-three Kylie Notaras is no stranger to sleepless nights. The 35-year-old, who has worked casually as a teacher since taking maternity leave, said her children’s routine took priority over her own, leaving her with little to no sleep each night.
Since having her 11-month-old baby, Ms Notaras said her nights were “disturbed”.
“I fall asleep for an hour each night and then I am woken by our baby,” she said. “If you had told me 10 years ago that I was going to be surviving on five hours’ sleep I wouldn’t have believed it.”
As tiredness plagues Sydney, people are becoming increasingly dependent on coffee to see them through. Where a usual order used to be a flat white, we are now knocking back triple shots to stay up and running.
“We get a lot of interest in the stronger coffee types,” Brewtown Newtown general manager Stephen Corbett said.
SLEEPLESS TEENAGER’S WAKE-UP CALL
Year 12 student Monique Newham, 17, from Castle Hill, says school stress deprived her of sleep.
AT the height of her sleep crisis, Monique Newham’s body would not allow her to sleep before 6am.
On school nights the teen regularly stayed up until 3am working on assessments and was so tired that she fell asleep in class the next day.
But the wee hours also became a time when Monique would watch movies on her laptop and scour social media, not realising the extreme health dangers of failing to get a proper night’s sleep.
“At school and around the house I wasn’t able to function properly because of the lack of sleep. I wasn’t co-operating with anything and I was angry and tired,” she said.
Before seeking help through the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research Monique, 17, went through a dark few years when extreme lack of sleep affected her moods, levels of co-operation and gave her headaches.
Monique, who attends Loreto Normanhurst school in Sydney’s north, decided to take her life in hand and found a program on the Woolcock website to help her.
“I feel so much better — my family and friends have noticed I’m more energetic and involve myself in more things,” she said.