Technology addictions harming our sleep

ADDICTIONS to technology, early-morning boot camps, more shiftwork and longer commutes are being blamed for a deterioration quality sleep.

Australians are increasingly suffering from insomnia and disturbed sleep, even though the average amount of hours we spend sleeping has extended by ten minutes since 1992 to 8 hours and 30 minutes.

“People are turning their bedrooms into home theatres and offices instead of a place for sleep and the three-letter word,” said sleep physician Associate Professor Brendon Yee.

‘Studies have shown there is an increasing use of technology in bed, such as people using Facebook and Twitter on their iPads or iPhones.”

Symptoms of insomnia were up four per cent and clinical insomnia up three per cent, according to recent studies said Associate Professor Nick Glozier of the Brain and Mind Research Unit at Sydney University.

“There are more people who report sleeping problems,” he said.

“Although we can’t find the sleep duration changes, sleep quality does appear to be worsening on average.”

Lengthening commuting times and sunrise boot camps have been blamed by sleep experts, but Associate Professor Yee says technology addiction as the main culprit.

“The mind is ticking over and can’t relax,” said the Woolcock Institute sleep physician.

“Chronic sleep deprivation can also happen as we burn the candle at both ends. Work and stress, study and demanding family life is probably contributing to our poor sleep. Our sleep health has been suffering.”

Ongoing sleeping problems can increase the chances of getting cardiovascular disease, psychiatric disorders and high blood pressure.

The increasing rates of obesity and shiftwork are also linked to sleep disorders.

By the end of this year it is estimated there will be about 1.5 million shift workers in Australia.

Shiftwork-intensive industries such as mining, healthcare, transport and accommodation and food services will also account for 45 per cent of all new jobs over the next five years, according to the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations.

Coupled with consumer expectations of a 24-hour service economy, Professor Yee predicts the problem is only going to get worse without some serious attention to quality rest.

“People who do shiftwork can get what we call shiftwork sleep disorder, where their body clock is out of line to what their normal social rhythm should be,” he says.

“Again, this can lead to insomnia. People need to ensure they cut down on sugary, caffeinated and alcoholic drinks and not use technology too close to bedtime.

“Regular exercise, a balanced diet and ensuring there is darkness and ventilation in your room are also good ways to help get to sleep.”

West Ryde’s Kate Johnson is a freelance graphic designer and model with WINK agency and said she has resorted to herbal sleeping tablets at times because she can’t fall asleep.

“If I’m sending off emails at midnight I can stay up the rest of the night because I’m so wired,” the 27-year-old said.

“I have very irregular working hours too, where jobs can finish at 2am or start at 4am. If you stress about working a 15-hour day you can think about so much it and it keeps you awake.

“I find if I’m organised enough and get off the computer before 8pm I can normally sleep better.”

A recent study revealed insomnia symptoms in the population increased from 35 to 39 per cent between 1993 and 2007.

In the 20,000-person National Psychiatric Morbidity Survey, the diagnosis of clinical insomnia over the same period increased from 3 to 6 per cent.

Main reasons for insomnia

Worry/thinking – 41%
Illness/discomfort – 19%
Noise 3.4%
Shiftwork/too busy to sleep – 5%
Needing to go to the toilet – 3%
Having to do something (e.g. look after baby) – 6%

Source: National Psychiatric Morbidity Survey