About sleep health

Did you know that 4 in 10 Australians don't get enough healthy sleep?1 Good sleep is essential to good health. A good night's sleep helps you feel good and be more alert, you feel more energetic and can concentrate better. Getting enough sleep is one of the most important things you can do for your health and well-being. Be your best self and enjoy life through better sleep.

It's time to make friends with sleep again!

couple reading in bed
What is sleep health?

Getting a good night's sleep is just as important to your overall health as eating well and exercising regularly.2 So if you're snoring or regularly waking up tired you're probably not getting the amount and quality of sleep you need.

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Why is sleep health important?

Your body and mind depend on a good night's sleep for your physical and mental health as well as your quality of life.3 While we sleep many important functions take place that helps the body to repair itself. Sleep also supports brain function and improves memory and mood.4 Without enough sleep we are more likely to experience problems with reaction times, thinking, concentration, memory, mood and it increases the risk of mistakes and accidents.

Sleeping poorly night after night can also contribute to long term chronic health problems.4 Millions of Australians aren't sleeping properly and many of us will experience health issues as a result.1

Woman stretching
How sleep deprivation affects your health
Researchers have found that approximately 6% of Australians with inadequate sleep1 will go on to experience an unfortunate outcome, most commonly depression, a motor vehicle accident or a workplace injury.
  • Drowsiness can slow your reaction time as such as being drunk.5
  • Lack of sleep also makes it more difficult to think and learn efficiently.3
  • Both men and women who are sleep deprived have lower libidos.3
Poor sleep signs
Health benefits of getting enough sleep
You need good, regular sleep for the health of both your brain and your body.
Why your brain needs sleep3
When you sleep, your brain is still working, getting you set up for the day ahead. A good night's sleep helps your brain with learning as well as problem-solving. It affects your focus, creativity and decision making.
Why your body needs sleep3
While you sleep, parts of your body repair themselves; including your heart and blood vessels. Sleep also helps balance hormones, which is why people who are sleep deprived are more prone to obesity and diabetes.

How much sleep do you really need?

The amount of sleep you need changes over your lifespan. A newborn baby needs around 16 hours of sleep in every 24 hours and about half of that is REM* (dream sleep).

By the time you reach adolescence, you can most likely meet your sleep needs with 8 1/2 hours of sleep a night, and only 2 of these will be REM sleep. At 50 years, you may get by on 6 hours with less than 1 hour of REM a night.

*REM is short for 'Rapid Eye Movements'. REM sleep is when you're most likely to dream.


About Sleep Health - Graph
How your sleep needs change as you age.6 Adapted from: The Development Course of Sleep. (2007). Sleep Syllabus.

It's not just the amount and type of sleep that changes with age.7 Other things happen to your sleep patterns. As you age, your sleep tends to be more shallow and you may find you're disturbed more easily during the night by outside noises or a restless bladder. Older people often like to have an afternoon nap which can interfere with their sleep at night. They're also more likely to go to bed early and wake up early. Pain can also disrupt sleep during the night.

The different phases of sleep8

While you're asleep, your brain is cycling through different stages and levels of sleep. Each one has a purpose although scientists don't yet fully understand their roles in sleep health.
Stage 1: Light Sleep
Stage 2: Non REM sleep
Stage 3: Deep sleep
Stage 4: REM Sleep
Swipe
The 4 stages of sleep-01

Light sleep

Light sleep occurs as you're drifting off to sleep. This stage may last for several minutes, during which time your pulse and breathing slow down and your muscles begin to relax. At the same time, your brain waves begin to change to sleep mode.

The 4 stages of sleep-02

Non REM sleep

Before you enter deeper sleep, you go through a stage of non-REM sleep. Your pulse, breathing and brain waves continue to slow, your body temperature drops and your muscles relax more.

The 4 stages of sleep-03

Deep sleep

This is the kind of sleep you need to ensure that you wake up feeling like you slept well. You get most of your phase 3 sleep during the first half of the night. Your pulse, breathing and brain waves slow further and it’s quite difficult to wake up from this stage of sleep.

The 4 stages of sleep-04

REM sleep

Your first period of REM sleep (when you’re most likely to dream) usually takes place about an hour and a half after falling asleep. If someone looked at you while you were in REM sleep, they’d notice that your eyes are moving rapidly from side to side behind your closed lids. Your brain waves change and resemble the brain waves seen when you’re awake. You breathe faster, and your pulse increases. If you are woken during REM sleep, you may remember your dream.

During the night your brain will cycle through these sleep phases, favouring REM sleep and lighter sleep as you approach morning.

What to do if you're suffering from poor sleep

Getting a good night's sleep isn't just about going to bed on time -- although that's very important. 'Sleep hygiene' is a term that the experts use to describe habits and practices that are conducive to good sleep at night and full alertness in the daytime.10
Try these 4 sleep hygiene tips to give yourself the best chance of getting better quality sleep each night:
1. Make time for sleep

Sleep is just as important to your health as diet and exercise, so make sure you've got enough time for sleep and plan the rest of your day around it.

2. Create consistent sleep habits

Good sleep is easier when you follow a routine. Create a consistent bedtime ritual. By going to bed and waking up at the same time, you'll find it's easier to fall asleep each night.

3. Create a comfortable sleep environment

Sleep is just as important to your health as diet and exercise, so make sure you've got enough time for sleep and plan the rest of your day around it.

4. Turn off before bed

Whether it's TV, reading, email or texting, give yourself a nice window of time to unplug and relax before bedtime. Your body should associate your bed with sleep so avoid activities that ramp up your brain activity instead of slowing it down. Screens and bright lights can also suppress melatonin production - making it difficult to fall asleep.

3 things to avoid at night to improve
your sleep health

A big meal

Avoiding a big meal within 3 hours of bedtime reduces your risk of experiencing heartburn which can wake you from sleep.8

Alcohol

Even though it can make you sleepy initially, the effect wears off and can interfere with healthy sleep.

Coffee

Caffeine-containing drinks and stimulant drugs can make it difficult to sleep well.

What might be affecting your sleep quality?
If you've worked on improving your sleep health and you're still concerned about it, it's time to look more closely at what's going on. The two most likely culprits are:
 
Insomnia
This has several possible causes. Once you discover the cause you can work on finding the solution.
Discover more
 
Sleep apnea
Sleep apnea (also spelt sleep apnoea) affects 3 in 10 men and nearly 2 in 10 women.12
Find out if you have it

When to seek treatment

If you feel like you're doing everything you can to get a good night's sleep but you still wake up without the energy to do things you enjoy, there might be more to the story.

If you have sleep apnea, you're not breathing properly when you're asleep. You may be completely unaware that you have this condition. It can lead to daytime sleepiness and, left untreated, you may experience long term health problems. Take our free online sleep assessment to see if you're at risk.

Diagnosing unresolved sleep issues

If the solution to your sleep problem continues to elude you, consider booking an appointment with a sleep coach to discuss your concerns or talk to your doctor to see if they can help you pin down the reason why you're not getting a good night's sleep.

Sleep disorder prevention13

Apart from practising good sleep hygiene, here are some other steps you can take to prevent sleep a disorder from interfering with your sleep and daytime alertness.

  • Get regular exercise, but do it earlier in the day, at least 3 to 4 hours before bed.
  • Avoid taking an afternoon nap. It can make it more difficult for you to get to sleep at night.
  • Maintain a normal weight, and reduce weight if you need to. Being overweight and obese are associated with snoring and sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea.
A to ZZZ guide