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Why sacrificing sleep is killing you


Limiting your sleep to five hours a night for a week is the equivalent of ageing a decade.

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Adelaide-born sleep expert Associate Professor Danny Eckert says a high-performance society that seems to culturally glorify a lack of sleep is “crazy”, warning that sleep deprivation is a major public health issue.

Listen to the full interview here:

“I’m an advocate for good sleep health in general, but it’s amazing to me that society doesn’t place good sleep health – or good sleep hygiene, as we call it – as a priority,” he tells Adelaide podcast Rooster Radio, which runs regularly on InDaily.

“It’s one of the modifiable things you can do to change your life.”

Eckert says sleep is “one of the three pillars of health”, alongside diet and exercise.

“They’re the three things that can really be game-changers in health,” he says.

He said tests on a typical, healthy, 20-year-old male who restricts their sleep to five hours a night for a week will show that testosterone levels plummet.

“It’s as though they’ve aged over a decade… it’s astonishing,” he says.

A test of blood glucose levels on a healthy individual would reveal that after 35 hours of sleep in a week, “you’re now pre-diabetic”.

Eckert says just 18 hours of sleep deprivation is the equivalent to blowing 0.05 on a blood-alcohol test; 24 hours would equate to 0.1.

“You’re intoxicated, basically,” he says.

But while sleep deprivation as a pseudo lifestyle choice is one symptom of modern society, another is the prevalence of obstructive sleep apnoea – which commonly affects middle-aged men carrying extra weight.

Eckert, one of the world’s leading experts in sleep apnoea, says the condition affects more than one million Australian adults.

“It’s as common as asthma and diabetes,” he says, and explains that those affected become “seven to eight times more likely to crash a car”.

“It affects every aspect of their life… they’re effectively waking up again and again through the night.

“This can happen 100 times or more per hour.”

The fact that it manifests itself in ongoing snoring means, he says, that it is “also distressing for the partner”.

The stress from sleep deprivation, including obstructive sleep apnoea, affects the heart, blood glucose levels and metabolic system, and increases the risk of cancer and other diseases.

“It costs Australia more than $5 billion a year.”

news_dannyeckert_sleeplab2The former Adelaide student and one-time championship mountain biker also reflects on his journey from working picking apples in the Adelaide Hills, to a PhD at Adelaide University, to a stint at Harvard Medical School, where he was promoted to faculty as Assistant Professor. He returned to Australia to lead sleep research at NeuRA – the Neuroscience Research Australia in Sydney.

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