Sleeplessness costs the Australian economy over $66 billion in lost productivity - what does it cost you?

We were joined by Manager of Sleep Services, Darrel Wicks, to discuss sleep and the roles of sleep scientists.

What is the role of a sleep scientist?

A sleep scientist investigates sleep and when sleep becomes disrupted or disturbed we run tests to assist the diagnosis of the sleep disorder.

How much sleep should we be getting every night?

It does vary somewhat across the lifespan so when you’re a baby and an adolescent usually 10-12 hours is required but for teenagers and adults 7-8 hours is recommended.

What can happen if someone doesn’t get enough sleep?

The main thing that will happen if you don’t get enough sleep is what’s called ‘excessive daytime sleepiness’ which is an inability to maintain wakefulness during the day that could lead on to cognitive dysfunctions (not being able to remember things properly) or mood disorders (being grumpy all the time).

What can happen if someone is sleeping too much?

If an adult is sleeping more than 7-8 hours, say 10-12 hours a day that would suggest there is a problem such as an underlying sleep disorder, to which we would advise they see a medical professional.

What factors can affect your sleep?

You can divide this into internal and external factors.
Internal factors include medication, other medical disorders (such as pain disorders and rheumatoid arthritis) and stress levels.
External factors are the environment in which you sleep - the temperature of the room, how comfortable your bed and pillow are, and the presence of mobile phones and screens which should not be visible.

Are there certain foods that can help or hinder sleep?

A good diet is good for your general health and sleep. Some substances in food can harm your sleep such as caffeine, cocoa and nicotine which are all stimulants and can affect your ability to fall asleep and maintain sleep.

How would someone know they have a sleep disorder?

Often this is discovered or witnessed by a bed partner. They may witness snoring, nocturnal choking or excessive movement at night. If the person does not have a bed partner they should monitor how they function during the day - their mood is off, if they can’t concentrate or can’t work effectively.

Are sleep disorders common?

Around 20% of the general population in Australia have a form of sleep disorder, such as insomnia, movement disorders or sleep breathing disorders. 5% of the general population suffer from obstructed sleep apnoea (upper airways blocks at night and can’t breath properly), 5-10% suffer from restless leg syndrome and 10% suffer from insomnia.

Is snoring a sleep disorder or a symptom?

Both. Snoring is officially classified as a sleep disorder, but we usually use it as a marker that something underlying is going on that needs to be looked at in more detail.

Are some people more likely to experience a sleep disorder?

Usually the older you are the more likely you are to have a sleep disorder. Being overweight and other medical conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular or vascular disease also increases your likelihood.

How are sleep disorders diagnosed?

With an overnight sleep study, in which you are admitted into hospital for one night where we monitor what goes on with various sensors and electrodes on your body while you sleep. This is non-invasive (no needles), and everything is placed on the surface of your body.

Can someone still sleep in a sleep study with sensors attached to them?

This is one of the biggest questions patients ask us, and usually it does take longer to fall asleep in this type of environment, however most patients end up sleeping enough for a diagnosis.

What is the difference between a home-based sleep test and a sleep study in the hospital?

Home-based sleep testing is like a slimmed down version of what happens in the hospital. Less things are recorded during a home-based sleep study which can be appropriate for certain types of patients such as to test whether there is evidence of obstructed sleep apnoea. Otherwise hospital based testing is advised.

How do we treat sleep disorders?

This depends on the type of sleep disorder. For a sleep breathing disorder such as disruptive sleep apnoea disorder one of the main treatments is CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) which is a machine that pumps air into the upper airways during the night through a mask to keep the airways open so you can breathe freely while you sleep. Treatment for insomnia may involve referral to a psychologist to undergo cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). For movements disorders pharmaceutical treatment can be advised by the specialist.

Do you have any tips for a better night’s sleep?

For sleep hygiene it is useful to keep a regular sleep routine, going to bed at the same time, waking up at the same time. Keep your room free of digital technology, keeping screens out of the room, not using phones or tablets as they admit blue light which can affect sleep. Have a buffer between the time you finish your day and go to sleep so you can relax (go for a walk, meditate, or relax).

If somebody thinks they have a symptom of a sleep disorder, what is the process to come in for a sleep study?

The first point of call is always going to be your General Practitioner (GP), talk to your GP about specific problems you’ve been having and if necessary the GP will refer you on to a sleep specialist who will assess you and determine whether you will need to come in for an overnight investigation.

07 March 2019


We use cookies to provide you with a customised experience which may include marketing purposes. More details can be found at our Privacy Policy.