Health sector welcomes government response on sleep recommendations: looks to collaborate on emergency shift workers and kids on screens      

9 August 2023

The health sector has welcomed the federal government’s positive response last week to 11 sleep health recommendations tabled in 2019 and looks forward to working on their implementation.

The 2019 report noted significant issues around the links between poor sleep and untreated sleep disorders and mental health problems, road accidents, workplace accidents, hypertension, diabetes, weight gain, poor productivity, and poor study and education outcomes for young people. 

The Australasian Sleep Association (ASA) – the peak scientific body representing clinicians, scientists, and researchers – urged the government to treat sleep as essential to health and wellness, alongside diet and exercise.

Associate Professor Sutapa Mukherjee, President of the ASA, says the sector is encouraged that the government supported 10 of the 11 recommendations while referring the other recommendation to the ACCC.

‘Support for these recommendations has been a while coming but it’s great to have the government behind them. We look forward to continue working with them on implementing the recommendations over the next few years,’ says Dr Mukherjee.

‘What we see as pressing concerns right now are, firstly, the amount of sleep emergency shift workers are getting. There is a lot of overtime being done out there without sufficient rest, which impacts not just those workers, but potentially public safety. The ASA and Sleep Health Foundation have proposed a pilot trial to start addressing these issues in health care and aged care.

With many health staff being stretched during COVID, flight from the sector, and emergency workers like firefighters doing large swathes of overtime, many in the health sector are concerned about burn out, poor sleep patterns, and the public impact.

‘The other area we have concerns around is the impact of screens and plethora of social media that is keeping young people awake to all hours and impacting their education, work, and mental and physical health,’ says A/Prof Mukherjee.

A particular concern is young people and the pervasiveness of screens in their lives. An Australian government study into children’s sleep has shown a quarter of 12-13 year-olds and half of 16-17 year-olds don't get enough sleep. 

The report says screens and social media are significant contributors to lack of sleep. A Vichealth report from a few years ago noted Australian teens were foregoing sleep for screen time.

Dr Bianca Cannon is a lecturer at the University of Sydney and a practising GP. Dr Cannon says both public education and increased training of primary health care professionals in sleep health would help address a swathe of public health issues.  

'We know from multiple studies that a lack of sleep and untreated sleep disorders have enormous physical and mental health costs. These impacts range from an increase in diabetes and depression, to impacting younger Australians in terms of their education and workplace outcomes,' says Dr Cannon.

‘We GPs see people all the time about sleep issues, especially when sleep is impacting other health problems that they’re managing.

‘I’m very supportive of the inquiry recommendations, and hope the government takes urgent action on those recommendations to help the public and primary care health practitioners understand how to prevent and manage sleep problems.’

The Australasian Sleep Association says federal government support for the recommendations is a great first step and will help the government to find downstream savings.

'We look forward to working together with government on some of these recommendations over the coming years,' says A/Prof Mukherjee.