New studies on sleep – are you getting enough?

Losing out on quality sleep could make you more prone to developing health problems such as type 2 diabetes, new research has found.

A large-scale international study published this week in the Occupational and Environmental Medicine journal found shift workers are nine per cent more likely to develop the disease, the figure ballooning to a 37 per cent risk for males and even higher for people switching between day and night shifts, who face a 42 per cent risk.

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The research pooled 12 international studies involving more than 226,500 people, 14,600 whom had diabetes.

Disrupted sleep was listed as a leading contributor in the findings.

How much sleep is the right amount?

kitten sleepingWhile it is different for individuals, a recent article published in The Wall Street Journal considered new research, much of it suggesting seven hours of sleep might be better than the long-held belief of seven to nine.

Australian expert Dr Danny Eckert, head of the Sleep physiology research program at Neuroscience Research Australia, expressed caution.

“These findings need to be interpreted in the context of the wider existing data for which the bulk of information shows that averaging seven to eight hours per night is optimal for important outcomes including mortality.”

Dr Eckert, who is also chair of the Australian Sleep Association’s research committee, acknowledges that several studies have showed that sleeping more than nine hours could affect health, as can sleeping less than six hours a night.

So in summary – aim for seven hours a night.

Experimenting with sleep

Dr Eckert says sleep is difficult to measure accurately, but knowledge continues to increase.

“We now know that sleep is essential for the production of many essential hormones that our bodies require, learning and memory, and a variety of restorative processes.

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“Sleep is challenging to measure because we need to measure brain waves to truly know if someone is awake or asleep.”

Dr Eckert says every single organ in the body is adversely affected by disrupted sleep and people experiencing problems should seek help from their GP.

For better sleep, he suggested carrying out a weeklong experiment while on holiday.

“Avoid caffeine and alcohol and go to bed when you are tired and wake up without an alarm and note how much sleep you get each night.

“By the end of the week if you are refreshed this is likely to be close to your required sleep duration.”

Are you at risk?

Rotating shifts make it harder for people to adjust to a regular sleep-wake cycle and a lack of quality sleep may prompt or worsen insulin resistance.

Jenny Singleton has worked as a nurse at a bustling Melbourne metropolitan hospital for seven years where shift work comes with the territory.

“You kind of get used to it. I tried to do a nine to five job for a while and really didn’t like it.”

Mrs Singleton says developing good sleep patterns is vital.

“You’ve got to be aware of how much sleep you’re having and how much you need,” she says.

“You kind of get used to it. I tried to do a nine to five job for a while and really didn’t like it.”

Mrs Singleton conceded the nature of her job, which often involves dealing with patients in critical situations, can create an environment where sleep doesn’t come so easily when she returns home from a traumatic day and tries to get some shut-eye.


Despite the findings, she says she is not concerned about developing type 2 diabetes.

“I wonder whether some of these people are actually are actually at risk of getting diabetes already. That would be my question.”

“There’s a lot more that goes into type 2 diabetes than sleeping; like lifestyle and diet. “

Sydney-based app developer Brandon Cowan wakes up at 3pm each day and finishes at 7am.

The self-employed 20-year-old’s abnormal habits grew naturally.

“It’s pretty much light every time I go to sleep,” he says.

“I sort of just enjoy working so much that I keep going until I burn out.”

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