Sleep- how much and are you getting enough?

by Karen Chan (Physiotherapist; Acupuncturist)

Did you know that up to 45% of the Australian population are having inadequate sleep (duration or quality)? 17% of people have reported falling asleep on the job; and 17% have reported not going to work due to poor sleep. There is also a strong correlation to decreased work performance, with up to 30% making procedural errors due to lack of sleep (2016 Report to Sleep health foundation, Adelaide).

We’ve all experienced sleep deprivation to some degree and felt the implications. Whether its moodiness, tiredness, inattention or incoordination. However, would you want your doctor performing life saving surgery or your accountant doing your income tax statements knowing they had minimal sleep? (Interestingly, medical error is the 3rd leading cause of death in US after heart disease and cancer!).

figure 1: implications of shift work. from: James et al (2017)

figure 1: implications of shift work. from: James et al (2017)

Implications of inadequate sleep:

As we sleep our body cells repair and rejuvenate, thus has a major role in injury recovery. However it is not just recovery rates that are affected.

Our physical and mental wellbeing, memory, quality of life and life expectancy, creativity, energy, functional capacity, alertness/attention, reaction times, weight control, stress levels, moods (eg irritability, depression), academic performance are all affected. There is also associated impaired driving and risk-taking behaviours, impaired social relationships and evidence to show decreased performance in elite and amateur athletes. 

Ongoing sleep deficiency is linked to increased risk of cardiovascular/ hypertension and kidney disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, stroke, and even cancer

Who is at risk?

We are obviously all at risk of sleep inadequacy however prime groups include:

  • Students (hard working ones at least)

  • Parents with newborn/ young infants

  • Shift workers: disruption of circadian rhythm

  • Regular travellers, especially regular changes of time zones/ jetlag

  • Menopausal/ pregnant women

  • ‘Workaholics’

How much sleep is recommended?

figure 2: national sleep foundation’s sleep duration recommendations. From:  National sleep foundation (2015)

figure 2: national sleep foundation’s sleep duration recommendations. From: National sleep foundation (2015)

Interestingly, it seems that the ‘catchup' weekend sleep shows mixed findings in terms of benefits or potential ‘reversal’ of implications. Thus the better approach to have is instead to aim for good sleep hygiene and quantity.

Those that have regularly less than the 7hours of sleep are at risk of those complications mentioned above.

So, that extra hour’s sleep every day can potentially save your life!

Tips for sleeping better:

  • Destress techniques (eg yoga, meditation, mindfulness, journalling, see my previous blog post)

  • Relaxation eg warm baths/showers, soft music, white noise, chamomile teas

  • Avoid blue light emitted by technology (eg laptop, ipad, mobile) (stimulates brain into thinking its day and reduces amount of melatonin (hormone which helps us relax and sleep). Can download software to help reduce blue light emission from these devices now

  • Avoid stimulants eg alcohol, coffee, tobacco; especially after lunch

  • Avoid heavy meals 2-3 hours before sleep 

  • Avoid TVs in bedrooms

  • Exercise (studies shown to help with improving all aspects of sleep), although avoid exercise just before bed though as this can be over stimulating in some

  • Routine (think of babies!)- aim to sleep and wake at same time daily

  • Lighting- aim for natural sunlight for circadian rhythm. Curtains/ block out curtains if room is too bright at night, use of eye shades

  • Noise control- earplugs for unwanted sounds of snoring, traffic etc

  • Room temperature- ideal is 15-20C

  • Comfort- mattress, pillow/s. These make such a big difference. Generally if a mattress is older than 10years, it is most likely nearing its endlife. Likewise with a pillow, if you notice change of support and comfort, it’s time to upgrade.

  • Physical pain? eg sore shoulder or hip. Book in for a physiotherapist review to help potentially alleviate these

  • Consider a sleep professional and rule out a medical condition eg sleep apnoea, restless leg syndrome

  • Limit napping during the day- limit to 15-20mins

  • Ensure exposure to bright light or natural light during the day (helps regulate circadian rhythm)

  • Consider natural therapies- melatonin, vitamins, Himalayan Salt lamps (anecdotal evidence), lavender oils, Magnesium supplements for muscle relaxation

  • Parents of young children- have a nap when bubs sleeps (even though the temptation to do the washing/cleaning/cooking etc is there), say yes to babysitting offers, warm baths and milk before baby sleeps, sticking to routines, and encourage self soothing techniques from early on

  • Acupuncture- some research shows moderately strong potential of efficacy with minimal to no side effects

  • Nutritional and Dietary management- seek their expert advice as to what may help or what you may be lacking

So make your sleep a priority- it is so easy to say to yourself ‘i’ll just do that bit of work’ or 'do some more reading’ or ‘watch another episode of games of thrones’ but the detriment to your longterm health could actually be irreversible.


Karen Chan is the chief Physiotherapist, Acupuncturist and Director of Prospect Physiotherapy and Health Plus Clinic in Adelaide. She is also a lecturer at Endeavour College of Natural health and has a keen interest in holistic health and wellbeing. For more of Karen’s blogs, go to:


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