What a bad night’s sleep is really doing to your body


Feeling tired? A new study has found almost a third of Australians get only one good night’s sleep a week and health professionals warn the consequences could be life threatening.

We all know what it’s like to wake up after a bad night’s sleep feeling groggy and fatigued.

According to the latest study from LiveLighter, a Cancer Council WA and Health Foundation WA partnership, less than half of Australians (44 per cent) get enough sleep most nights and one in three (28 per cent) only manage a good night’s sleep once a week.

But did you know poor quality sleep is also linked to increases in appetite, weight gain and chronic disease?

According to the National Sleep Foundation, adults should have between 7 and 9 hours sleep a night, children and teens need even more.

Health psychologist at the Sleep Health Foundation, Dr Moira Junge, says sleep plays an important role in controlling our appetite and hormones.

“Mounting evidence suggests severe sleep deprivation can trigger an imbalance in people’s hunger hormones – causing a spike in hormone levels promoting hunger and a decline in those that make us feel fuller for longer,” she said.

“This may explain why we often feel hungry after a poor-quality sleep.”

Being tired impacts motivation, reducing the drive to get out and exercise and prepare healthy meals and increases the likelihood of reaching for easy, unhealthy snacks.

But Dr Junge says the health implications don’t stop there.

“Many people may be shocked to know that long term short sleep duration can increase our risk of health problems such as cancer, Type 2 diabetes and heart disease by a startling 20 to 40 per cent,” Dr Junge said.

Bupa Health Foundation’s Dr Melina Georgousakis says obesity is one of the most serious health issues affecting Australians at the moment with two thirds of Australians now overweight (35.6 per cent) or obese (31.3 per cent).

“Of concern is that the prevalence of obesity, especially severe obesity (a body mass index of 35 or above), is increasing. In 2015 to '16 nearly 10 per cent of Australians were considered severely obese, almost doubling from 1995,” she said.

“Excess weight can increase a person’s risk of developing a number of diseases including stroke, coronary heart disease, chronic kidney disease, type 2 diabetes and 11 types of cancer.”

“While healthy diet and exercise are crucial when it comes to maintaining a healthy weight, many people don’t recognise that it is more than just energy intake and output that drives weight gain. This is something being championed by groups like the Obesity Collective, a modern obesity movement in Australia which the Bupa Health Foundation is a member of,” she said.

“For example, there are genetic, social, behavioural and environment factors which all contribute to an individual’s weight. When looking at tackling the obesity crisis there are a number of systemic changes needed to create environments which support people to adopt a healthier lifestyle. This includes improving the quality of our sleep, which increasing amounts of evidence is showing to be important to maintaining health weight.”

Tips for getting a good night’s sleep:

  • Implement a no-tech-in-the-bedroom rule. Mobiles, tablets, TVs and computers emit a blue light which can affect the production of melatonin, keeping you awake. Find an old fashioned alarm clock if you need one to wake up and keep the technology away from the bedroom.
  • Practice mindfulness before bedtime. Mindfulness is known to help people unwind, de-clutter their thoughts, and help manage anxiety and overthinking.
  • Ditch caffeine after lunch – it might temporarily perk you up, but caffeine in the afternoon can make it harder to get to sleep.
  • Avoid alcohol – alcohol might make you feel sleepy but it can interfere with a good night’s sleep, wake you up needing the toilet overnight and leave you feeling groggy in the morning.
  • Quit smoking. Nicotine is a stimulant, like caffeine.
  • Don’t have children. (Just joking. However, as a mum I can attest to the fact that sometimes, no matter how hard you try to get a good night’s sleep, the kids have other plans for you and there’s just nothing you can do about it.)

Fast facts from the LiveLighter sleep study

  • Almost a third of Australians only get one good night's sleep a week (28%)
  • Those aged 55 and over are more likely to get enough sleep most of the time, compared to younger age groups
  • 52% of people get a good sleep less than half the time
  • Only a third (33%) of Australians use an alarm
  • Younger generations are more likely to need an alarm clock than older age groups
  • 58% of the population wakes up naturally


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