“What we do know from recent research is that insufficient sleep increases a person’s risk of serious medical conditions like diabetes and cardiovascular disease and is associated with a shortened lifespan.”
Mr Schlesinger said while it was reassuring respondents recognised the importance sleep plays in overall health, more research was needed.
“We really need to unpack more of our understanding of what is driving this issue,” he said.
Sleep Health Foundation professor Dorothy Bruck said she was not surprised by the findings, with some studies suggesting up to 40 per cent of Australians were not getting enough sleep.
“There is some research that suggest that sleep affects just about every cell in the body and every organ in the body,” Professor Bruck said.
Professor Bruck said in the short term, sleep deprivation was linked to sadness, irritability, unstable moods and difficulty remembering or retaining information, while a chronic lack of sleep was associated with a whole range of other burdens of disease including stroke, diabetes and heart disease.
“Social determinants of health and lack of sleep are very, very tightly knit together,” Professor Bruck said. “Social determinants of a lack of sleep are right up because people can experience lack of sleep due to poverty, chaotic lifestyles, long work hours, insecure housing. People lie awake at night and they worry about these things or they’re working multiple jobs and they’re not getting enough sleep.”
A federal government inquiry earlier this year called for sleep to be made a national priority and to be recognised as a “third” pillar of a healthy lifestyle alongside diet and exercise.
“What we argue is that sleep has been really undervalued, that those other two pillars of a healthy lifestyle have got quite a lot of airplay and that sleep has been forgotten,” Professor Bruck said.
Mental health was also found to be a major barrier. More than a quarter of Australian respondents to the survey cited their mental health as a daily challenge significantly affecting their ability to have a healthy lifestyle, compared to 18 per cent of participants globally.
Australians were also less likely to interact with support from social services, with about only about 28 per cent of respondents in contact with social services, compared to about 41 per cent of participants in comparison countries including China, Germany, India, Japan, the United Kingdom, United States and United Arab Emirates.
While the world is growing wealthier and more than a billion fewer people are living in extreme poverty than they were in 1990 according to the World Bank statistics, the researchers argue that greater wealth does not always translate into the better health outcomes, with rates of chronic diseases such as cancer, obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease on the rise.
“Innovative medical treatments are rendered ineffective if people don’t have social support and access to resources readily available to help keep them well,” PwC’s global industries leader Kelly Barnes said.
“Healthcare and government organisations that don’t act on social determinants will spend more and more money only to watch health status decline.”
Professor Bruck said, however, that there was some positive news, with more Australians believing they owned the responsibility to address their own social determinants of health (52 per cent) when compared to their global counterparts (41 per cent).
“It give us room for optimism because if people believe that they are important agents in controlling their own health it means that they are going to make better choices,” she said. “For example, we know for people with insomnia, those who understand a lot of their health is under their own control are much better at working through and overcoming insomnia than people who believe they have no control over it.”
Melissa Cunningham is The Age’s health reporter.