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Is Australia a nation of sleep-deprived zombies?

Laura Sullivan and Bruce McDougall, May 21, 2017 6:00PM News Corp Australia

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CHRONIC lack of sleep is becoming Australia’s biggest health crisis — creating a nation of exhausted zombies and costing $36 billion a year.

Sleeplessness can lead to road and workplace accidents, loss of concentration, poor performance at school and a range of serious medical conditions ranging from depression to type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

A new report by the Medibank Better Health Index shows one-in-three Australians do not get enough rest and the numbers are increasing.

Adolescents* are the most sleep-deprived group at 80 per cent, but almost half of primary school children do not get enough rest.

Sleep researchers have uncovered something else — an increase in the number of young adults with sleep problems and a link to obesity.

Sleep-deprived teenagers could be putting their health at risk by drinking too much caffeine and sugar-laden energy drinks to stay awake at school.

“No matter what age you are fatigue and sleepiness can affect how well you think, react, work and get along with others,” Medibank medical adviser Dr Sue Abhary said.

Sleep expert Dr Carmel Harrington said Australians forget about the importance of sleep for wellbeing.

Girl with headphones and tablet computer media_cameraScreen time negatively impacts sleep. Picture: supplied

“A major concern is people’s attitude towards sleep despite being aware they aren’t getting enough,” she said.

The largest ever survey of young Australians, commissioned by the cyber security group Family Zone, found most teens use electronic devices for four hours every night to text, for online gaming or social media.

The survey of 1000 teenagers and parents reveals 57 per cent of teens only get up to seven hours sleep a night. Experts say adolescents need at least nine hours.

Experts believe lack of sleep may play a part in the declining performance of children in national literacy and numeracy (NAPLAN) tests.

While the sleep habits of kids and teenagers is a concern, adults are lacking shut eye too.

Another survey by the Sleep Health Foundation found 12 per cent of adults get fewer than five-and-a-half hours’ sleep a night.

One quarter of adults said their busy lifestyles did not allow them to get enough sleep with almost almost 30 per cent admitting to driving while feeling drowsy.

It's gonna be a while until we get to sleep media_cameraSleepover in an indoor tent. Picture: supplied

Poor sleep also costs the community. It is estimated the three major sleep conditions in teens — sleep apnoea, insomnia and restless legs syndrome — costs the nation $5 billion annually, including $3 billion in lost productivity*.

But the total price to the community of flow-on effects and loss of quality of life has been estimated by Deloitte Access Economics at an astounding $36.4 billion a year.


1. The brain prepares for the next day while the body rests. It creates new pathways around the brain to help memory and learning. When the brain doesn’t have enough sleep time to lock in information from school, it’s harder to remember it the next day.

2. While asleep, the body is restoring and repairing itself. Sleep is crucial for blood vessel health and for regulating chemicals in the body.

3. A lack of sufficient sleep can cause a drop in how well people perform at work and school. When the brain is tired it can’t function as well as it would if well rested.


adolescents: teenagers

productivity: how much you can get done



Activity 1. Cause and Effect

On a piece of paper write the title ‘Chronic lack of sleep.’

Draw a chart with two columns. Label them CAUSE and EFFECT.

Chronic lack of sleep is the problem.

Read the article carefully to find out some of the causes of this problem and some of the effects.

Can you think of any other causes or effects?

Write your own suggestions in a different colour.

Extension: Zzzz Zzzz Zzzz

Many people don’t get enough sleep.

Below are some problems that people might suffer from because they do not get enough sleep.

Use information from the article (or from further research) to suggest why getting more sleep might be helpful in solving this problem.

“I just can’t seem to get over this cold. I have had it for weeks.”

“It’s sooo hard to get up in the morning. I hit snooze several times before I can crawl out of bed.”

“I can’t seem to remember my spelling words for the test on Fridays. I practice all week but I always make silly mistakes.”

“I always feel tired driving home from work.”

Time: allow about 30 minutes to complete this task

Curriculum links: English, Health and Physical Education

Activity 2. How much sleep do you get each night?

Children 6-13 years should be getting between eight to 11 hours sleep each night and teenagers should be getting between eight to 10 hours each night*.

Calculate how much sleep you get each night (calculate from your usual bedtime until the time you usually get up through the week for school).

Is it enough?

Take a survey in your class of how much sleep each student gets.

What is the average amount of sleep of students in your class?

Are most students in your class getting enough sleep?

How many students get more sleep than is recommended?

How many get less?

Put this information into a bar, column or pie graph.

*Sleep Heath Foundation fact sheet 2015 –


Come up with a slogan that encourages students to get the desired amount of sleep.

Use your slogan to create a poster for your school that encourages sleep, listing its benefits.

Time: allow 40 minutes to complete this activity

Curriculum links: English, Mathematics, Health and Physical Education


(Vocabulary, Connectives, Openers, Punctuation)

Whoops! The author of this article almost fell asleep writing this article. Can you believe it? They forgot to fill in the punctuation!

Rewrite a paragraph and take out all the punctuation.
Then challenge a partner to fill in what’s missing.
Did they insert the punctuation correctly?

Keep challenging one another with different sentences or paragraphs from the article. If you run out, get creative and write your own sentences/paragraphs.

Time: allow 20 minutes to complete this activity

Curriculum links: English, Big Write, VCOP







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