To celebrate Sleep Awareness Week we had the wonderful opportunity to interview one of Monash University’s sleep specialists, Dr Bei Bei, to find out more about;

  • The latest research in sleep
  • Why quality sleep is so important for our health
  • Tips and tricks we can use to improve our sleep
  • The signs that we may need some support

What are the latest findings in sleep research?

Some of the latest research looks at how we can increase the  availability and awareness of cognitive behavioural therapy for insomnia as a tool to improve people’s sleep long term rather than medication which tends to only be a short-term solution.

Many people who go to their GP with a sleeping problem are unfortunately put on medication straight away. However, research tells us that medication is not that effective in the longer term and cognitive behavioural therapy is a much better option for treating insomnia.

In Australia, seeing a psychologist for better sleep can be fully or partially covered under Medicare with a referral from a GP.

How is sleep connected to weight management?

There are several reasons why poor-quality sleep makes it more difficult for people to manage their weight but let’s focus on a few key aspects:

The obvious one is that when we don’t get enough sleep, we are awake for more hours in the day and likely to eat more to fuel our body. When we are tired, we are also more likely to go for comfort food.

When you don’t get enough sleep, you may notice an increase in your appetite. Studies have shown that this is likely caused by the impact of sleep on two hunger hormones called ghrelin and leptin. Ghrelin is a hormone released in the stomach that signals hunger to the brain. Levels are high before you eat, which is when the stomach is empty, and low after you eat. Leptin is a hormone released from fat cells. It suppresses hunger and signals fullness in the brain. When you don’t get enough sleep the body makes more ghrelin and less leptin, leaving you hungry.

What are your top tips for improving sleep?

  • Only go to sleep when you are sleepy. If you go to bed when you are alert, lying awake could make you feel frustrated. You will subconsciously develop a negative association with lying in bed and not sleeping, which can lead to more sleeping problems down the track.
  • Get up around the same time each day to stabilise your body clock. This also helps you to feel sleepy around the same time every night.
  • Try not to stress about not being able to sleep (particularly if it only happens once or twice) as that could make the situation worse. If sleep doesn’t come straight away, and you are fully awake and alert, stop trying to sleep. Get up and do something not too stimulating such as a craft or listening to an audio book. Make sure you only use a relatively dim light. Then go back to bed when the next sleepiness wave comes.
  • Don’t overstimulate you mind about an hour before you go to bed. Try not to do work, think about complex issues or use any devices.

How many hours of sleep should we get per night?

We can’t make a general statement about this that applies to everyone. Every person is different and how many hours we need changes throughout our life span. Our advice is to stop counting the hours. Judge how you feel during the day instead of fixating on the number of hours you sleep each night.

When should someone start thinking about doing something about their sleeping problems (e.g. talk to a GP as a start?)

You should think about getting support to improve your sleep when sleep problems happen frequently (e.g., 3 nights or more a week), and that it is affecting how you function during the day.

Dr Bei Bei is an NHMRC Health Professional Research Fellow at Turner Institute for Brain and Mental Health, Clinical Psychologist and Research Lead at Monash University Healthy Sleep Clinic, and Honorary Senior Research Fellow at Centre for Women’s Mental Health, Royal Women’s Hospital. She holds a Doctor of Psychology (Clinical) and a PhD from University of Melbourne. Her research and clinical work focus on the individual differences in sleep-wake behaviours, the relationship between sleep and mental health, and psychological interventions for better sleep.

Monash University Healthy Sleep Clinic

The Healthy Sleep Clinic gives the community easy and affordable access to support with their sleeping. The initial consultation with a sleep specialist is bulk billed. After the initial consultation a small fee covers the comprehensive CBT-I package or circadian re-entraining. This includes visits with sleep psychologists, through a care plan provided from the GP, patients can be eligible for a rebate.

Take a look at the Monash University Healthy Sleep Clinic to find out more.

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