Research StudyStatistics About Sleep Problems in Australia (2020)

August 24, 2021by Alyssa Villamil0

The sleep problems afflicting Australia’s population are manifold. As technology use becomes increasingly rampant, more urbanisation leads to less natural environments, and the net age of our population steadily rises, there are more reports about poor sleep quality than ever before.

Unfortunately, most ordinary Australians and many frontline healthcare professionals don’t understand the impact that sleep problems can have on general health, happiness and productivity. Understanding the scope of the problem is essential for helping more people return to good sleep health, which is why we’ve compiled a detailed list of relevant sleep statistics you can read through.

Scope of Australia’s Sleep Problems

This section details statistics that may indicate the scope and quality of the Australian population’s sleep health. Note that the statistics presented here only indicate the data from the given studies, and are not necessarily conclusive or applicable beyond the scope of the studies.
  • A 2010 study by Deloitte found that 8.9% of Australians had either obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), restless leg syndrome (RLS) or primary insomnia. Population percentages for each disorder were 4.7%, 3% and 1.2% respectively.
  • A 2018 submission by Professors Adams and Wittert and Dr Appleton to the Inquiry into Sleep Health Awareness in Australia stated that 39.8% of Australians experience some form of inadequate sleep, with 50% of men experiencing obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and 12% experiencing severe OSA. 20% of Australians suffer from acute insomnia, while another 17% have restless legs syndrome (RLS).
  • The International Classification of Sleep Disorders – Third Edition (ICSD-3) features seven major categories of sleep disorders, including insomnia, sleep-related breathing disorders, central disorders of hypersomnolence, CRSWDs, sleep-related movement disorders, parasomnias, and other sleep disorders.
  • A 2019 report by Sleep Health Foundation found that 59.4% of Australians regularly experience one negative sleep symptom, and 14.8% have symptoms which could indicate clinical insomnia. That report also found that 32% of 18–24-year-olds and 25% of older Australians (65+ years) struggled to fall asleep.  Conversely, 47% of Australians aged over 65 woke up a lot during the night, compared to 22% of 18–24-year-olds.  8% of those surveyed said their daily routine didn’t give them adequate time to sleep.
  • In 2015, 15 million prescriptions for opioid medication were dispensed in Australia. Opioid medication has been linked to sleep-disordered breathing; you can find statistics about this under Causes.

Causes of Sleep Problems

This section details statistics about risk factors that may contribute to the formation of sleep problems or disturbed sleep. Note that the statistics presented here only indicate the data from the given studies, and are not necessarily conclusive or applicable beyond the scope of the studies.
  • A study of Pennsylvanian men found that, of the sample group, no young men (20–44 years), 2% of middle-aged men (45–64 years) and 13% of older men (65+ years) suffered from central apnea events equal to or greater than CI 2.5. When the CI was raised to 20, no young or middle-aged men and only 5% of older men suffered central events.
  • In one American study spanning four years, a 10% increase in body weight resulted in a 600% greater risk of developing OSA.
  • A Wisconsin study found that participating postmenopausal women had a 300% greater risk of OSA than participating premenopausal women.
  • That same study also found that current smokers were 444% more likely to have moderate sleep-disordered breathing than former smokers and non-smokers, with heavy smokers (>40 cigarettes a day) 4047% more likely to have moderate sleep-disordered breathing.
  • A Pennsylvania survey found that, among survey participants, men had a sleep apnea prevalence of 3.9%, premenopausal women had a prevalence of 0.6%, and postmenopausal women not using hormone replacement therapy had a 2.7% prevalence.
  • A 2000 study indicated that, of the participants, Far-East Asian men have a greater respiratory disturbance index (RDI), with Asian study participants scoring a mean RDI of 55.1, than white men, who scored 34.1.
  • A 2007 study demonstrated that 70% of participants who used long-term opioid medication developed ataxic/Biot breathing, compared to 5% of controls. 90% of participants on a morphine dose of >200mg daily developed ataxic breathing.
  • A 1998 survey found more than 60% of survey participants diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease (PD) cite being affected by sleep problems. Causes include motor disabilities, sleep-related breathing disorders, neurodegenerative processes, mood disorders and PD medication.
  • A 2007 analysis of 98 Salt Lake City patients using chronic opioid medications found that 36% had obstructive sleep apnea, 24% had central sleep apnea, 21% had combined central and obstructive sleep apnea, 4% had indeterminate sleep apnea, and 15% had no sleep apnea. Opioids were also potentially responsible for 10% of the patients suffering from hypoxemia during wakefulness, and 8% suffering from hypoxemia during sleep.
  • A 2011 clinical review of the effect of common medications on sleep found that:
    • Nine drugs caused sleep attacks, including antiparkinsonian, COMT-inhibitor and dopamine agonist medications
    • 60 different drugs caused nightmares
    • 21 drugs caused RLS
    • 102 drugs affected sleep architecture, including alcohol, caffeine, aspirin and ibuprofen

Effects of Sleep Problems

This section details statistics about that may relate to the short- and long-term effects of sleep problems across a range of different theatres. Note that the statistics presented here only indicate the data from the given studies, and are not necessarily conclusive or applicable beyond the scope of the studies.
Social Effects
  • A 2018 study found that sleep-deprived individuals physically distanced themselves 13.2% further from other people than non-sleep-deprived individuals. They also found that changes in sleep efficiency correlated with loneliness (R = −0.20, P < 0.05), indicating that worse sleep was strongly linked to greater loneliness.
  • A 2010 study of 123 men with OSA between 21 and 60 years found that 63% reported problems with relationships, 69% experienced reduced sexual desire, 46% had decreased arousal and 29% had difficulty achieving orgasm. These numbers were reduced to 34%, 40%, 2% and 18% respectively following CPAP treatment.
  • A study of 10 married couples found that CPAP treatment of OSA resulted in a 13% improvement in sleep efficiency for the sufferers’ partners, which translated into 62 minutes of additional sleep per night.
Vocational Effects
  • A 2017 study of shift nurses found that 69% of participants experienced poor sleep quality; this correlated with poorer work performance, including 4% lower general intellect (measured using the MoCA test), 8.5% slower completion of a math worksheet, 42.1% lower response inhibition, 38.9% slower simple reaction time, 30.1% lower scores on a working memory test, 49.8% less targets detected, and 55.4% more false alarms given.
Societal Effects
  • The 2010 Deloitte study concluded that the sleep disorders cost the Australian health system $544 million per year. They also found that, annually, $3.1 billion was lost due to reduced productivity, $472 million was lost combating that reduced productivity, informal care cost $129 million and motor vehicle/workplace accidents cost $517 million, culminating in a total of $4.3 billion of indirect financial costs in 2010.  In combination with the human cost, sleep disorders cost Australia an estimated $36.4 billion per year.
Physical Effects
  • Compared to study participants who slept 7 hours, a 2018 study found that participants who slept 4, 5 and 6 hours a night were 86%, 56% and 27% more likely to be at risk of hypertension.
  • A 2000 study discovered that study participants with AHI (apnea-hypopnea index, the measurement for sleep apnea) 1.5–5, 5–15, 15–30 and 30+ had a 7%, 20%, 25% and 37% respective increased risk of hypertension, as compared to participants with AHI <1.5.
  • A 2010 study found that male study participants aged 40–70 with AHI >30 were 68% more likely to develop coronary heart disease than men with AHI <5.
  • A 2016 study found that study participants who slept less than 6 hours a night had a 6 incident rate of Type 2 diabetes compared to those who slept 7 hours (incident rate 3.2 per 100 person-years).
  • A 2014 study found that study participants who increased their nightly sleep from <6.5 hours by 1.6 hours reported a 14% decrease in appetite and a 62% decrease in desire for sweet and salty foods (desire for fruits, vegetables and proteins was not affected).
  • Reduction in slow wave sleep (SWS) has been linked by a 2008 study to a 25% reduction in insulin sensitivity and a 23% reduction in glucose tolerance.
Mental Effects
  • A 2018 study of 91,105 people found disrupted circadian rhythmicity led to +16% risk of lifetime major depressive disorder, +24% risk of lifetime bipolar disorder, +2% greater mood instability, +1% higher neuroticism scores, +9% greater loneliness, 9% less happiness, 10% less health satisfaction and 75% slower reaction times.
The above information has been compiled from peer-reviewed medical journals, articles and databases, and is the product of third-party research. Presentation of these statistics should not be interpreted as an endorsement or verification of the research. This data is purely for informative purposes and should not be taken as medical advice. If you think you might be suffering from a sleep or health condition, consult a qualified medical professional.

Alyssa Villamil

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