The benefits of a good night's sleep

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It's recommended that you get seven to eight hours of rest a night, but sleeping for shorter or longer than this can affect more than the next day's caffeine cravings. We look at how sleep has been linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular diseasei.

A collaborative study from the Warwick Medical School in the UK has found that too little and too much sleep can have adverse outcomes on a person's health. The research, conducted by Professor F.P. Cappuccio and Dr M. Miller, looked at the relationship between sleep and cardiovascular disease of more than 470,000 subjects over a period of seven to twenty-five yearsii.

The results indicated that people reporting sleep of six or fewer hours a night were at higher risk of developing coronary heart disease and stroke compared to people sleeping for the recommended seven to eight hours. Additionally, people sleeping for nine hours or more each night were also found to be at increased riskii.

A European study on sleep deprivation reveals lack of or too much sleep can have adverse outcomes on a person's health.

Unhealthy sleeping patterns

The stress we experience due to work, family and financial pressures can impact on our ability to maintain a healthy work-life balance, which is a major cause of poor sleeping habits for many Australiansiii. The Lifeline Stress Poll revealed that in 2013, more than two thirds of Australians lost sleep due to stressiv.

Prof. Cappuccio says the "trend for late nights and early mornings is actually a ticking time bomb for our health" and that the "work/life balance struggle is causing too many of us to trade in precious sleeping time to ensure we complete all the jobs we believe are expected of us"i.

"...the trend for late nights and early mornings is actually a ticking time bomb for our health", Prof. Cappuccio, Warwick Medical School

The 2011 Census conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) showed that nearly 1.7 million Australian workers worked more than 49 hours a weekv. More than half were managers and professionals, who represented the biggest proportion of people working more than the standard 40-hour weekv. Compared to other OECD countries, Australians are working longer hours, but devoting less time to eating, sleeping and leisure activities, including socialising with family and friendsvi.

The consequences of poor sleeping habits

Busy lifestyles have contributed to more people trading in precious sleep time to keep up with demanding workloads, and medical research shows that the trade may be at the expense of our healthvii. However, while the research findings of the Warwick Medical School indicate the potential threat of poor sleeping habits to our physical health, insufficient and excessive sleep can have many more impacts on a person's quality of life.

Reduced alertness and concentration, shortened attention span, poor memory and lack of motivation are common symptoms of sleep deprivationvii. If unaddressed, a sufferer may experience microsleep - a short period of involuntary sleep that can last from a few seconds to a few minutes in durationviii. This can lead to accidents at work, home, or on the roadviii. A report from the Sleep Health Foundation found heart disease, stroke, depression, motor vehicle accidents and workplace injuries were attributable to sleep disordersix.

Lack of sleep due to stress or a burdensome workload can lead to the development of more serious medical conditions like insomnia - where people regularly find it hard to fall or stay asleepx. People prone to anxiety and depression are more likely to develop insomniaxi. In cases of serious or chronic insomnia, professional medical advice should be soughtxi. Organisations such as the Sleep Health Foundation and Beyond Blue provide assistance to people in need of help or treatment for insomnia.

Improving your sleep and health

Along with regular exercise and a well-balanced diet, having adequate amounts of sleep at night is equally important to maintain your healthxii. While the degree and severity to which people suffer from sleeping disorders varies, there are simple measures we can all take to help us drift off to sleep at night. This includes having a regular sleep routine, avoiding caffeinated drinks and eating dinner at least two hours before bedtimexiii. Healthy exposure to the sun and avoiding naps during the day will also help improve sleep at nightxiii.

A healthy balance between work and leisure is an important factor in reducing the risk of chronic illnesses.

If you're having trouble switching off your thoughts before bed, make a habit of setting aside at least half an hour before bed to wind down. During this period of time try meditating or listening to quiet music. If you find that you are lying awake in bed for more than half an hour, don't stay in bed. Get up and go to a darkened room and sit quietly until you feel drowsy enough to sleep. Make sure there are no distractions like ticking clocks or lights to keep you awakexiii.

Combined with eating well and exercising regularly, adequate sleep contributes to a healthy lifestyle. Sleep helps us to perform our daily duties at home and work, lessens feelings of stress and fatigue, and reduces the risk of critical illness such as coronary heart disease and stroke. In the event of critical illness or being permanently unable to work due to injury, life insurance can help to reduce the financial pressure on you and your family. Get a quote from Allianz today.

iScience Daily 2011, Sleep Deprivation: Late Nights Can Lead to Higher Risk of Strokes and Heart Attacks, Study Finds, viewed 5 August 2013,

iiF. P. Cappuccio, D. Cooper, L. D'Elia, P. Strazzullo, M. A. Miller. 2011, 'Sleep duration predicts cardiovascular outcomes: a systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective studies', European Heart Journal, viewed 5 August 2013,

iiiThe Australian, Mounting stress means less sleep, viewed on 1 October 2013,

ivLifeline 2013, Work and Finance Stress Causes Australians to Lose Sleep, viewed on 1 October 2013,

vAustralian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2011, 2006.0 Working Population Profile, viewed 5 August 2013,

viOECD Better Life Index, Work-Life Balance, viewed 5 August 2013,

viiBetter Health Channel 2013, Sleep deprivation, viewed 3 September 2013,

viiiCentre for Road Safety 2013, Science of Sleep, NSW Government, viewed 3 September 2013,

ixSleep Health Foundation 2011, 'Re-awakening Australia The economic cost of sleep disorders in Australia, 2010', Deloitte Access Economics, viewed 5 August 2013,
, p.iv

xBetter Health Channel 2013, Sleep – insomnia, viewed 3 September 2013,

xiSleep Health Foundation 2011, Insomnia, viewed 3 September 2013,

xiiSleep Health Foundation, Why does sleep matter?, viewed 5 August 2013,

xiiiSleep Health Foundation 2011, Good Sleep Habits, viewed 5 August 2013,