Sleep is one of the three key pillars of health, alongside diet and exercise, but if we're honest about it can we really say we're getting the amount or quality we need?
With the help of market research consultancy CoreData WA, we surveyed 2000 Australians (including more than 1000 HIF members) and discovered there's a clear link between poor health, lower disposable income, and quality of sleep.
And alarmingly for most Aussies, their sleep is suboptimal.
The Sleep Index Survey found those with no disposable income were significantly more likely to have a low sleep score (23 percent versus 9 per cent of those with at least some disposable income).
They were also almost twice as likely to get nowhere near enough sleep than others (31 per cent to 17 per cent) and sleep quality was more often poor or terrible (58 per cent to 42 per cent).
A 2021 report by the Sleep Health Foundation during the 2019-20 financial year showed poor sleep cost the Australian economy $14.4 billion, equating to roughly 0.73 per cent of Australian GDP.
It also found the non-financial costs relating to the loss of wellbeing totalled an additional $36.6 billion.
That's a huge cost to bear. It's not even accounting for the fact this represented 3.2 per cent of the Australian burden of disease for that year.
And then there's the cost to our mental health of not getting quality and lengthy shut-eye.
Sleep is considered key in preventing mental health disorders in otherwise healthy people with no history of mental illness, and there is also a growing amount of evidence around the importance of sleep in the prevention and management of psychiatric disorders.
Our own Sleep Index Survey found the most common personal impacts of poor sleep were mental health (41 per cent) and physical health (38 per cent) while 33 per cent of respondents said stress impacted their sleep often or almost every day.
We all know when we have a good night's sleep we feel better, make better decisions and we're the best version of ourselves.
Conversely, if we're sleeping terribly, it really doesn't set us up for a great day.
Lack of sleep impacts job performance, productivity, career progression and satisfaction and is also linked to job-related accidents, absenteeism and non-constructive behaviours in the workplace.
On the flip side, better sleep is linked to improved memory, knowledge acquisition and learning.
So why on earth wouldn't we want that?
At HIF we decided there were too many links between poor sleep and poor health to overlook.
There's a raft of studies that highlight these connections; people who are middle-aged or older and only sleep for five hours a night may be at risk of serious and chronic health conditions, ranging from heart disease to cancer.
Deep sleep may also be a buffer against cognitive decline in older adults with Alzheimer's disease by protecting cognitive reserve.
And studies have discovered maintaining a regular healthy sleep schedule may help guard against premature death - those with regular and optimal sleep have about a 40 per cent lower risk of dying than their peers with irregular and insufficient sleep.
Insomnia also increases vulnerability to influenza-like illnesses. The list goes on.
We've been educating our members about sleep for some time but our Sleep Index Survey has allowed us to identify common routines and practices that may be hindering them from getting the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep per night - and determine what we, as a private health insurer, can do to help them.
From the survey results we can see most people are in sleep deficit - especially on workdays - and those who have the biggest sleep deficits are also those struggling to make ends meet.
All roads lead to sleep as a contributor if not the foundation of good health.
It's time for Australians to get serious because sleep is the one thing we're continually sacrificing. But at what cost?
- Justin James is chief executive of HIF.