Four out of ten Australians aren't getting the sleep they need to function throughout the day, a new report has revealed.
The Sleep Health Foundation Report, released by Deloitte Access Economics, estimated 7.4 million Australians didn't get enough shut-eye in the 2016-2017 financial year, which in turn impacted their ability to "function at normal levels of alertness, concentration and emotional control."
"This lack of sleep had harmful effects on everyday function, and exacerbated health conditions from heart disease and stroke through to diabetes and depression in tens of thousands of Australians," Professor Dorothy Bruck, Chair of the Sleep Health Foundation, said.
"On top of this, it claimed the lives of more than 3,000 people. The cost of sleep deprivation is utterly alarming and confirms we need to take urgent action to put sleep on the national agenda."
Not only is our national sleep problem contributing to a range of serious health issues, including diabetes, heart disease and obesity, it is also causing huge financial strain.
According to the report, sleeplessness costs $26.2 billion a year; which includes a health bill of $1.8 billion, lost productivity costs of $17.9 billion and other financial costs, such as home carer costs, of $6.5 billion.
Add the estimated loss of well being costs of $40.1 billion, and the annual sleep bill comes in at a whopping $66.3 billion.
"The numbers are big, the personal and national costs are big and their consequences should not be ignored," Bruck said.
Why we're not sleeping
There are a number of factors that could be causing poor sleep quality, including our obsession with technology and the tendency to work in high pressure roles.
"In the corporate world there's a lot of stress, and coming home with a lot of stress -- but not knowing how to manage it -- can impact sleep and cause insomnia," Dr Dev Banerjee of Integrated Sleep Health told HuffPost Australia.
"I see that in clients all the time, very fractured and jittery sleep. We need to bring that stress response down in the evening time, otherwise it's going to be very hard to effortlessly drift off to sleep."
"Early morning wakening with an inability to get back to sleep is actually quite a common sign of depression. Those who have depression tend to have a lot of early morning wakings," Banerjee said.
"If someone comes to me and says 'I regularly wake up at four and can't get back to sleep', I tend to think outside the box and think, 'is it a bit of a mood disturbance?'"
To find out more about the link between depression and sleep, head here.
Staring at the blue screen of your smartphone or tablet too close to bed time can disrupt your circadian rhythm and cause a poor night's sleep, which is why it's recommended to leave your electronics out of the bedroom. (Though, let's face it, who, realistically, sleeps with their phone practically under their pillow?)
How to get a good night's sleep
If you're finding yourself tossing or turning all night, or staring at the ceiling at 4am thinking about tomorrow's meeting, it sounds like you're accruing some serious sleep debt you'll eventually have to repay (probably the next day during said meeting when you can't keep your eyes open). So what's the secret to getting a good night's sleep?
Remove all screens
"It amazes me what people have in their bedrooms. They have their TV in there, their laptop, their iPad and Xbox... meaning the brain is obviously thinking this is a place of high activity," Banerjee said.
"This is providing you with all sorts of temptation. I actually think it's a mixture of being tempted to switch something on and the lack of the ability to switch something off.
"If you go to bed and put the TV on, the next thing you know, you're watching a playback of 'The Voice' that you missed, and then you obviously want to watch to the end to see who was eliminated.
"Before you know it, it's 1.30am, and then you can't get to sleep because your brain is wired up."
And keeping screens out of your bedroom is only half the battle. According to The Harvard Health Letter, not only should your room be screen-free, but it's best to avoid looking at bright screens beginning two to three hours before bed.
Create a pre-bedtime routine
"What we do during the evening before we go to bed is going to affect our sleep," Dr Amy Reynolds, sleep scientist and Sealy Sleep expert told HuffPost Australia. "
"It's not just about the time we physically spend in bed, but the time before we get into bed is really important if we want to make the most of our sleep time."
So that means taking the time to wind down, relax, and let your body know it's almost time to go to bed.
Enforce good daytime habits
Believe it or not, what we do in the day can massively impact how we sleep at night.
For instance, it's been proven that regular exercise improves sleep quality and duration; as well as boosting your mood and reducing stress. Just make sure you exercise at the right time (late at night or just before you go to bed isn't ideal) to get the best advantage.
And while you're at it, you might want to exercise outdoors, as it's also been proven exposing yourself to sunshine can do wonders for your sleep: just make sure you slip, slop, slap.
Distract your thoughts
There's a good reason people tell you to count sheep to fall asleep -- it helps take your mind off the millions of everyday thoughts and worries keeping you up at night.
"Distractional therapy [helps] to calm those thoughts pumping out of [your] head," Dr Banerjee said.
"They're always really silly thoughts, the things that keep you up, things like 'I've run out of potatoes' or 'I think it's going to rain tomorrow'.
"It's real nonsense and you are alert and awake thinking about it. Once that happens, ping! The whole brain fires up like a firework display. So anything that can distract you from those thoughts -- sheep or whatever else -- is worthwhile."