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Sleep is something many of us take for granted and others wish for.

It’s essential for good cognition, better judgment, problem solving, decision making

….and maintaining our weight.

The amount of sleep we require varies with age. Most adults require around 8 hours, yet the average amount of sleep achieved on any given weekday night today is closer to 6 and a half hours or less, which is thirty-eight minutes less than just 10 years ago.

While the message about sleep deprivation and poorer cognition is starting to gain wider recognition, one outcome not yet filtering through is the fact that sleep deprivation is associated with an increased risk of obesity. Australia is now one of the fattest nations on earth with 14 million Aussies either overweight or obese.

Obesity brings with it a whole string of associated health problems.

The one that concerns me especially is that obesity is associated with an increased risk of cognitive decline. Getting enough sleep helps us keep our weight in a healthy range.

Why are we sleeping less?

One reason often given is the need to keep up with our increasing workloads. Australians have the greatest percentage of the working population working more than 55 hours a week. Not only are we working for longer, we are often choosing to work later at night and/or starting earlier in the morning which we achieve by shaving time off from our sleep.

Of course there are many other contributing factors as to why we don’t sleep as long, including the introduction of electric light, TV, computers, the worldwide web, social media and a faster, busier, lifestyle.

Sleep deprivation interferes with normal hormonal homeostasis.

Poor sleep is linked to obesity because it affects the way our bodies process and store carbohydrates. Ghrelin the so-called ‘hunger hormone’ produced in the gut, influences the brain and determines our appetite. It works with another hormone leptin, which tells us when we are full after eating. Poor sleep disrupts this balance and leads to weight gain.

Perhaps you’ve noticed how when you’re tired, we feel hungrier and seek out those foods such as those high in carbohydrates, fat and sugar to give our body and brain an energy boost. Coffee and donut anyone?

And because we are tired it can then feel like too much effort to cook a meal, so we succumb more readily to getting a take-away meal and we don’t even want to think about the idea of going out to do some exercise, so our energy expenditure goes down. No wonder John Winkelman, medical director of the Sleep Health Centre at Brigham and Women’s Hospital suggests any weight loss management program needs to incorporate better sleep habits to rectify that hormonal homeostasis.

Healthy workplaces encourage adequate sleep.

What measures does your workplace have in place to ensure all staff get enough sleep? Whilst it may not be practical to come and tuck everyone up in bed with a cup of cocoa and a bedtime story every night, should the workplace culture encourage the expectation that everyone needs and gets has enough down time to sleep?

This is especially important for those workplaces that incorporate shift work.

Do you have sleep and fatigue management policies in place to safeguard the health and wellbeing of all employees?

Is sleep something that is considered as part of your corporate wellness program?

Have measures been put into place to limit work hours or out of hours work?

(Goldman Sachs, following the findings of an inquest into the untimely death of a young 21 year old Bank of America employee who had been working for 72 hours straight, recently put out a recommendation that none of its interns should be working for more than 17 hours. Note that this was only for interns and doesn’t apply to the other staff! Seriously? If a workplace really is worth working for, one would hope they would value the health and wellbeing of all staff sufficiently to recognise safe working limits. Enthusiasm and dedication to our work, is never worth dying for.)

High performance requires adequately rested brains that can then deliver their best.

Sleep matters for performance and health.

Are you getting enough sleep?


Wu, J. T., & Kral, J. G. (2004). Ghrelin: Integrative Neuroendocrine Peptide in Health and Disease. Annals of Surgery239(4), 464–474. doi:10.1097/01.sla.0000118561.54919.61


Dr Jenny Brockis

Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and internationally board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, workplace health and wellbeing consultant, podcaster, keynote speaker and best-selling author. Her new book 'Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life' (Wiley) is available online and at all good bookstores.

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