Sleep makes it to the mental health reform agenda 

10 December 2020

Last month saw the release of the long-awaited final report of the Productivity Commission's inquiry into mental health. The role and importance of sleep health was included after it was noticeably absent from the draft report.

“While the draft report omitted almost any mention of the interactions between sleep health and mental health, it was pleasing to see sleep included in the final report,” said Alan Young, ASA President.

“This was thanks to a number of ASA members and the Sleep Health Foundation remaining actively involved in the inquiry, and advocating for sleep’s inclusion. Thank you especially to those involved in the ASA response: Delwyn Bartlett, Ron Grunstein, Rick Wassing, Amy Reynolds and Hailey Meaklim, as well as Dot Bruck, David Hillman and Shantha Rajaratnam working on behalf of the Sleep Health Foundation. 

"It’s a modest start, with no mention of sleep in the inquiry’s recommendations. But we’re really glad that sleep health has made it into the picture for such an important blueprint for policy reform in relation to Australia’s mental health system. It’s an important first step.”

The inquiry’s first finding highlights sleep as one of the important factors affecting a person’s mental health and wellbeing:

Finding 1.1 – Factors affecting a person’s mental health and wellbeing
A person’s mental health reflects the interaction of a lifetime of individual and lifestyle factors with a range of environmental, community and family risk factors. Regular exercise, eating a healthy diet and consistently getting enough sleep can reduce the risks of mental illness. But genetic vulnerability and experiences such as trauma, socioeconomic disadvantage, isolation, discrimination and environmental stressors can all harm people’s mental health and wellbeing.

 The Scope and Approach section in Volume 2 of the report summarises some of the evidence presented by sleep health experts. 

Sleep and mental health can be related to each other in multiple ways, and a range of evidence was presented to the Productivity Commission in relation to this topic. On the one hand, symptoms of anxiety disorders, such as stress and restlessness, can interfere with sleep cycles. On the other hand, poor sleep and sleep disorders can increase the risk of developing mental ill-health, exacerbate symptoms of mental illness and limit treatment efficacy (Meelo, Havekes and Steiger 2015; Sleep Health Foundation, sub. 767). Insomnia can contribute to depression and anxiety, among other mental disorders (Pigeon, Bishop and Krueger 2017). The effects of inadequate sleep can exacerbate the negative effects of mental illness, such as poor concentration and memory, emotional regulation and motivation and energy levels (ASA, sub. 672; David Hillman, sub. 586; Ron Grunstein and Rick Wassing, sub. 717). Treatment of sleep disorders can be beneficial in reducing some symptoms of mental illness, such as paranoia and hallucinations (Freeman et al. 2017).

 “We are understanding more with each passing year about the bi-directional relationship between sleep health and mental health. It’s good that there is at least the start of recognition of this in this important inquiry report,” Alan Young said.

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