Wake up call: Australians urged to get a good night’s sleep to reduce their risk of chronic disease


Research has revealed a lack of sleep could be doing more than just leaving you feeling a bit tired the next day. Restricted and poor-quality sleep is now associated with an increased risk of obesity[1],[2].

According to LiveLighter research[3] lack of sleep has become a frequent complaint, with one third of Australians revealing they only get one good night’s sleep a week.

With 67% of Australian adults already above a healthy weight[4], LiveLighter Campaign Manager and Dietitian Alison McAleese wants Aussies to take control of their sleep as a way of maintaining a healthy weight and avoiding long term health issues.

“A lack of sleep can get in the way of efforts to stay healthy. Being tired may make us more likely to reach for unhealthy snacks after a bad night’s sleep.  Many quick snack choices are often high in added sugar and saturated fat and don’t tend to fill us up. Eating too many of these foods over time can lead to unhealthy weight gain.”

“Staying up late may also make us feel less motivated to get up and moving the next day. As being active is an important part of maintaining a healthy weight, ensuring we get a good night’s sleep so we can stay physically active is really important,” Ms McAleese said.

High amounts of body fat, especially around our middle is now associated with an increased risk of 13 types of cancer and other diseases such as Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Health psychologist at the Sleep Health Foundation, Dr Moira Junge, wants Australians to understand the valuable role sleep plays in controlling our appetite and maintaining a healthy weight.

“Mounting evidence suggests severe sleep deprivation can trigger an imbalance in people’s hunger hormones – causing a spike in hormone levels promoting hunger and a decline in those that make us feel fuller for longer. This may explain why we often feel hungry after a poor quality sleep.” Dr Junge said

Dr Junge also emphasises the important role sleep plays in decreasing risk factors which can trigger a number of chronic diseases.

“Many people may be shocked to know that long term short sleep duration can increase our risk of health problems such as cancer, Type 2 diabetes and heart disease by a startling 20-40 per cent[5]” Dr Junge said.

“A good night’s sleep helps our hormones manage our body’s processes, including blood sugar level regulation and blood glucose control. When we don’t get enough sleep, less insulin, the hormone responsible for delivering our body’s main source of fuel, is released in the body after we eat.”

“In response, our body secretes stress hormones in an effort to keep us awake but this backfires, making it harder for insulin to deliver the energy our body needs and can result in high blood glucose levels. These reactions, known as insulin resistance and glucose intolerance, are really concerning especially when we know this increases the risk of Type 2 diabetes.” said Dr Junge.

Ms McAleese hopes highlighting the benefits that come with getting enough shut eye will help Aussies see they can gain more than just having more energy to go about their day.

“Along with eating a healthy diet and moving more, maintaining a healthy sleep pattern is a change we can make to help reduce the impact of sleep loss and reduce the risk of unhealthy weight related chronic disease,” said Ms McAleese.

LiveLighter’s top tips to a better night sleep:

  • Eat a healthy diet:
    • By increasing your fruit and vegetable intake, choosing wholegrains and increasing unsaturated fats (nuts, plant oils, fish) you have a better chance of improving your quality of sleep[4].
  • Ditch the alcohol:
    • Avoid that groggy feeling in the morning and cancel out the annoying disruptions of needing to go to the toilet overnight[6],[7].
  • Rethink your caffeine intake:
    • Whether you’re drinking tea, coffee, cola drink or energy drinks, know that these contain a stimulant, which will affect both the duration and quality of your sleep.  
  • Ditch the cigarettes:
    • Nicotine (from cigarettes), like caffeine, is a stimulant and will also affect the quality and duration of your sleep[8],[9].
[1] Becutti, G & Pannain, S. Sleep and obesity. Current opinion in clinical nutrition and metabolic care (2011) 14 (4) 402-412.
[2] Australasian Sleep Association, Submission 118, p. 2.
[3] LiveLighter’s most recent ‘Shape of Australia’ report prepared for Cancer Council WA and Cancer Council Victoria by Nina Sapountsis, Liyuwork Dana, and Simone Pettigrew at WA Cancer Prevention Research Unit (WACPRU) – full report not yet published. A sample of 2000 respondents was used with about two thirds of the sample being aged 18-54 years of age.
[4] Australian Health Survey: First Results, 2017-18  
[5] Australasian Epidemiological Association, Submission 15, p. 2 - https://bit.ly/2Fs38Ak
[4] St-Onge M, Mikic A, Pietrolungo C. Effects of diet on sleep quality. Advances in Nutrition. 2016. 7, 938-19.
[6] https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/sleep-hygiene
[7] https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/10-tips-for-healthy-sleep
[8] https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/sleep-hygiene
[9] https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/10-tips-for-healthy-sleep