A parliamentary inquiry into whether Australians are getting enough sleep, and the economic and social costs for the nation, has been initiated by the The Federal Government.
“Sleep problems are a growing and large problem in Australia, and in fact, the research that we’ve seen indicates that something like four out of 10 Australians are not getting adequate sleep on a regular basis,” Liberal MP Trent Zimmerman said.
He is the chairman of the national parliamentary Standing Committee on Health, Aged Care and Sport, which will be undertaking the inquiry and is expected to report back to Parliament in the next few months.
The inquiry has already received more than 100 submissions and will be holding hearings across the country.
“We know that sleep is just so vital to our bodily functions, be it our mental health, be it our alertness, memory or our performance ability, so it is a growing problem that we need to shine a light on,” Mr Zimmerman said.
He said the accepted wisdom is that everyone needs seven or eight hours of sleep per night, and young people can need more than that as their brains are developing.
“So, it’s whether we’re actually getting that adequate amount of sleep, both because of sleep disorders, but also because of lifestyle decisions that we’re making,” he said.
A serious issue for workers
Mr Zimmerman said that, like most politicians, he was familiar with enduring bad sleep.
Are you getting the recommended amount of sleep?
|0-3 months||14 to 17 hours|
|4-11 months||12 to 15 hours|
|1-2 years||11 to 14 hours|
|3-5 years||10 to 13 hours|
|6-13 years||9 to 11 hours|
|14-17 years||8 to 10 hours|
|18-25 years||7 to 9 hours|
|26-64 years||7 to 9 hours|
|≥ 65 years||7 to 8 hours|
Figures from the Sleep Health Foundation.
“But it is a serious issue for many people in the workforce, particularly shift workers, who obviously have interrupted sleep patterns,” he said.
“And we want to look at, effectively, what support and advice and education there is for those that are in the workforce that are having disrupted sleep because of the work that they’re expected to undertake.”
Mr Zimmerman said the inquiry would look at those occupations deemed most vulnerable.
“Something like 16 per cent of Australians are shift workers and many of those are in professions, for example, occupational drivers, where they are making decisions which can have life-or-death impacts,” he said.
“So it’s very important that people in those professions are aware of what they need to do to get adequate sleep so that they’re performing well.”
The Government has focused previously on diet and fitness as precursors to health problems, Mr Zimmerman said.
“The third element, which I think really has been missing, is whether we’re getting adequate sleep, because we do know, particularly amongst adolescents and children, that … sleep is just so vital to memory function, to performance, and to mental wellbeing.”
He said there was strong evidence lack of sleep led to symptoms of depression, and that was a serious concern.
The inquiry will also be looking specifically at the impact of new technology on sleep patterns.
Mr Zimmerman blames FOMO (fear of missing out) for young people taking their smart phones and tablets to bed with them and interrupting their sleep to respond to social media.
“What we know is that can have a very deleterious impact on people’s sleep patterns,” he said.
“Even using a tablet or a TV in your bedroom, with the brightness that involves, can actually trick the body into thinking that it’s not night time if it’s used for too long,” he said.
He hopes the results of the inquiry will assist in advising parents to ensure young children are not going to sleep with a device near their bed.
“There’s definitely a strong case for better education and better understanding about what the impact of new devices such as those can have,” he said.