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Sleep Deprivation Has Become A National Health Priority

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There’s a common notion that sleep is a waste of time and that we can get away with less than we really need. The stark reality, however, is that cutting corners and burning the candle at both ends leaves us ill-equipped to play at the top of our game. We are less mentally sharp, more prone to mistakes, and generally less pleasant to be around. Just like obesity, smoking, drinking too much, and not exercising enough, sleeping poorly or not long enough causes real harm. Physical and emotional health suffers, workplace performance plummets, and risks for accidents soar.

For example, results from an online study published in the journal, Sleep Health, has given Australia a figurative wake-up call and has implications for the rest of us, as well. Led by researchers at the University of Adelaide, the study found that 33-45% of adults either sleep poorly or not long enough on most nights. Women were significantly more likely than men to have difficulty falling asleep, waking up too early, and feeling sleepy, fatigued, irritable, moody, and unrefreshed even when they got the same amount of sleep as men. On the other hand, men were more likely to suffer from obstructive sleep apnea.

Almost a third of adults reported they had made errors at work during the previous three months due to being sleepy or having problems with sleep. 21% of men and 13% of women said they had actually fallen asleep while at work during the previous month. More alarmingly, 29% of adults admitted to driving while drowsy at least once a month, and an eye-popping one in five people said they had nodded off at the wheel during the past year. 5% conceded they had actually had an accident due to dozing off.

Most ominously, the problem is getting worse. The study authors noted that the number of sleep-related problems among the Aussies is 5 – 10% higher in 2016 than when they last surveyed the nation’s collective sleep health in 2010.

Night time computer use was a major contributor to many of the issues identified: 44% of adults reported being on the internet almost every night just before going to bed and 59% of this group described having three or more sleep-related problems.

Other key findings:

  • Average reported sleep time is 7 hours, although 12% slept less than 5.5 hours and 8% slept more than 9 hours
  • Of those who slept less than 5.5 hours, 75% reported recurrent daytime impairment or sleep-related symptoms
  • Frequent loud snoring was reported by 24% of men and 17% of women; among these, 70% reported daytime impairment or other sleep-related symptoms.

According to Sleep Health Foundation director, Dr. David Hillman, the solution is simple: the country needs to change its attitude towards sleep and get the issue into the national health discussion. “These worrying results just go to show that sleep is not the national health priority it needs to be. We need a fundamental change in the way sleep is viewed by everyone. This habit (our internet addiction) is having a direct and very negative impact on sleep and without a cohesive national strategy to combat it, this won’t change.”

Of course sleep deprivation is not unique to Australians; nearly 1/2 of all American adults don't get enough sleep. 

Sleep Deprivation and Weight

Of more immediate concern to many of you is that sleep deprivation increases cravings for junk food and, particularly in women, can lead to obesity and/or difficulty losing weight (

Sleep Hygiene

Sleep problems are indeed widespread and insidious. We all know the short-term consequences of poor sleep: decreased concentration and attention, daytime sleepiness, low energy, impaired productivity, irritability, and slowed reaction time. Chronic sleep loss is strongly associated with myriad health problems including inflammatory illness, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, mood disorders and even cancer. So what can you do to improve the quantity and quality of your sleep? Collectively,  the following behaviors are known as "sleep hygiene" and should be the starting point for establishing healthful sleep habits:

  • Reduce extraneous sources of light (particularly LED lights) in the evening hours: TV, computer screens, cell phones
  • Reserve the bedroom for sleep and sex: no computer use, video gaming, TV, eating, recreation
  • Establish a pre-sleep routine: a warm bath, a few minutes of relaxation or meditation, etc.
  • Go to bed each night at the same time and get up each morning at the same time
  • Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and heavy, spicy foods for 4-6 hours before going to bed
  • Exercise daily, but not immediately before going to bed
  • Limit daytime napping to 45 minutes or less
  • If you wake up and can’t get back to sleep within 10 minutes, get up and do something productive. When you begin to feel sleepy, go back to bed and try again.

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Adams, R.J. et al. Sleep health of Australian adults in 2016: results of the 2016 Sleep Health Foundation national survey. Sleep Health. 2017 Feb; 3(1): 35-42.

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