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Part ONE of the Sleep-Lab series here! How many of us have trouble sleeping? What are the main recognised causes? What are the effects? How are our kids doing? Find out in this overview with stats n’ facts!
Can’t sleep at night? Can’t sleep naturally? Can’t fall asleep instantly? Can’t fall asleep at all? Well you’re not alone. Chronic sleep disorders affect 1 in 10 Australians, and general sleep disturbance affects even more. In this article we’re jumping into the snooze lab to get a clearer picture of how Australians are faring with their sleep health, and what the primary drivers are behind poor sleep. The purpose of this article is to give you the underlying triggers of poor sleep from a holistic perspective so you understand why you can’t sleep at night. I’m all about understanding the reasons for dis-ease. Don’t just tell me what to take, tell me the why and how so that I can move on and fix it!
I’ll give you insights from a uniquely natural perspective so that you can see how nuanced the mechanism of sleep actually is and I’ll let you in on the latest insights into sleep disorders and why they’re so prevalent. Perhaps there’s more to your sleep woes than just stress or too much screen time. I’ll show you just how many elements there are to consider when your sleep is not deep.
In my next sleep article (coming soon) I share my unique and time tested approach to treating sleep disturbance, and give you age-appropriate holistic advice on how to finally get that deliciously deep shut-eye that you’ve been craving, and do it naturally. But try not to jump forwards to that one just yet! We need to understand the territory of sleep first to be best able to implement that advice wisely.
What is ‘poor sleep’?
Poor sleep occurs with:
- Loss of sleep depth to the point where sleep is no longer restorative
- Shortened sleep duration where the duration of sleep is insufficient to fuel your energy and alertness the following day
- Fragmented sleep patterns where you wake through the night and may or may not have difficulty falling asleep again
There are many effects of chronic sleep disturbance including:
- fatigue and low energy
- increased stress and anxiety
- mental fogginess
- mood swings
- lowered immunity
- reduced pain tolerance
- poor eating habits due to fatigue
- premature aging
Poor sleep quality actually has implications for all body systems. While we tend to focus on how we ‘feel’ as a temporary experience, the deeper issue with poor sleep is that it’s associated with chronic diseases (conditions manifested for 3 months or more) like hypertension and diabetes, which pervade the disease and lifestyle landscape of the 21st century. More on that soon…
Where we stand with sleep
First up, let’s get some context. How are you doing compared to other Australians? Here are some recent stats from national sleep surveys over the past couple of years:
- 60% of Australians suffer sleep disturbance or symptoms 3 or more times a week. This includes difficulty falling asleep, maintaining sleep or waking too early.
- Nearly 49% of Australians have a daily routine that regularly compromises their ability to get adequate sleep!
- 14.8% of Australians suffer from chronic insomnia (meeting International Classification of Sleep Disorders criteria) [Reynolds, 2019]
- Those aged over 65 years are more likely to report waking multiple times through the night.
- 32% of Australians aged 18 – 24 years have difficulty falling asleep.
- Worrying keeps around half of Australians (51%) up at night on a regular basis.
- More than half of Australians (53%) have a medical condition that detrimentally affects their sleep quality like chronic pain, snoring and anxiety.
- Women (35%) were more likely to worry about lack of sleep quality compared to men (25%)
COVID-19 hasn’t helped either! It made us more anxious, uncertain and vigilant which together impacted sleep quality globally. Nothing like a pandemic to activate those adrenals! So my friend, if you’re having issues with sleep, join the club. It seems that half of the country is here with you and we’re all feeling nocturnally challenged.
Young People and Sleep
Some researchers believe that sleep durations in young people have been steadily declining since the late 1990s for many reasons. Most significantly, if you look into the history of social media you’ll find the first social channel ‘Six Degrees’ emerged in 1997 followed by Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Whatsapp in the early 2000s. And don’t even get me started on Netflix!
Over half of 16 – 17 year olds don’t get enough sleep and the lack of sleep was found to contribute to anxiety, depression and struggles to meet learning guidelines at school.
The cost of poor sleep
When it comes to health system costs, insomnia and other sleep difficulties outshine most other common chronic disease like diabetes, coronary artery disease and workplace injuries. As you’ll see in the chart below from this 2021 study, sleep disorders costs are a whole other level! Poor sleep cost the Australian economy $14.4 billion over the 19/20 financial year (which equates to 0.73% Australian GDP).
Chart showing the staggering rise and trajectory of economic burden from sleep problems.
Below you can see the proportions of health system expenditure for each of the three main types of sleep disorder.
Causes of sleep disorders
Ahhhh, we finally get here! So what exactly is causing all this midnight mayhem?
Well firstly let’s differentiate two types of sleep issue because the causes will vary between the two. First, there’s the type of sleep disruption that comes from things like general worries and stresses, family, school, work and so on. These tend to resolve when the stressor disappears so finding solutions to this sort of stress is usually straightforward and temporary.
Then there’s the type of sleep disturbance that seems to arise without any specific cause. This is primary sleep disturbance. Or perhaps it’s an adverse effect of medication, or it comes from anxiety about not getting enough sleep, which ends up being a self-perpetuating cycle of worry and insomnia. Any of these latter types are secondary sleep disturbance, and they really need support for the underlying causes because temporary solutions rarely ‘fix’ the sleep condition.
Depression, anxiety, obstructive sleep apnoea, obesity, substance abuse and chronic pain are common causes of secondary sleep disturbance. Narcolepsy and chronic fatigue syndrome are also common causes. Adrenal issues, particularly adrenal hyper-sensitivity will have you buzzing through the midnight hours and is another frequent cause of sleep loss. So as you can see, there are lots of underlying triggers to poor sleep. I wonder what’s keeping you up at night? Let’s find out…
The most common origins of sleep disorders are listed below. You might like to see how many boxes you tick off. It will give you a sense of where your own sleep issues may be originating from:
Want to see me to work out a solution to your sleep difficulties? Get in touch by emailing or click the Book a Consult button below.
By now you have an overview of the multi-dimensional realm of sleep disorders, and hopefully gained some important insights into why you can’t fall asleep as easily as you’d like. In my next article ‘What’s really causing your sleep disorder?’, I harness the experience and wisdom of nearly two decades in clinical practice to present my truly holistic approach to sleep disorders. You’ll discover what the most important underlying triggers from a naturopathic perspective are when it comes to compromised sleep depth and duration. We’ll cover mental health, neuro-endocrine disruption, hormonal fluctuations, personality type and more. I can’t wait to share this with you!
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- Sleep Health Foundation, Rise and try to shine: the social and economic costs of sleep disorders, April 2021. Accessed 14th May 2021: https://www.sleephealthfoundation.org.au/files/Special_reports/Social_Economic_Cost_of_sleep_disorders_20042021.pdf
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- No author. Philips Global Sleep Survey – Seeking solutions: how COVID-19 changed sleep around the world. Philips, 2021, Netherlands.
- Larsson SC, Markus HS. Genetic liability to insomnia and cardiovascular disease risk. Circulation. 2019 Aug 27;140(9):796-8.
- Hirotsu C, Tufik S, Andersen ML. Interactions between sleep, stress, and metabolism: From physiological to pathological conditions. Sleep Science. 2015 Nov 1;8(3):143-52.
- Blanken TF, Benjamins JS, Borsboom D, Vermunt JK, Paquola C, Ramautar J, Dekker K, Stoffers D, Wassing R, Wei Y, Van Someren EJ. Insomnia disorder subtypes derived from life history and traits of affect and personality. The Lancet Psychiatry. 2019 Feb 1;6(2):151-63.
- Khan MA, Hashim MJ, King JK, Govender RD, Mustafa H, Al Kaabi J. Epidemiology of type 2 diabetes–global burden of disease and forecasted trends. Journal of epidemiology and global health. 2020 Mar;10(1):107.
- Author unknown. Diabetes Globally [web page], 2021, Diabetes Australia, ACT Australia. Accessed 20th May 2021: https://www.diabetesaustralia.com.au/about-diabetes/diabetes-globally/#:~:text=One%20in%2011%20adults%20has,is%20affected%20by%20gestational%20diabetes
Hey there! Welcome to my world of totally natural and powerful healing medicines. Medicines from nature. Medicine from Source. I’m a naturopath and herbalist with extensive clinical experience working with a range of health conditions including hormonal, metabolic, mental health, sleep and more.
I’ve brought together years of clinical and teaching experience, academic skill and curiosity to bring you this blog. I hope you enjoy it! If you do, leave a comment, I’d love to hear from you!