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Nearly half (48%) of all Australian adults report at least 2 sleep-related problems according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

Sleep disorders (like sleep apnoea and insomnia) have knock on effects for a person’s health and work life. Now a new Australian study suggests there are a significant number of young people going undiagnosed.

This research used data from the Raine Study, a longitudinal birth cohort study in WA. After exclusions, 554 people were included in the study and were aged 22. They had completed detailed sleep assessment and lab tests, using validated measures to check for the presence of insomnia, sleep apnoea or restless legs syndrome. They were also tested on their workplace productivity and performance using a validated questionnaire from the World Health Organization.

More than one in five people in the study were found to have a sleep disorder – 90 people had insomnia, 30 were diagnosed with sleep apnoea, and two had restless legs syndrome. But less than a fifth of those had been previously diagnosed by a doctor, indicating a high rate of underdiagnosis among young people. This shows many young people are unaware they have a sleep disorder, or know they have some problems with their sleep but haven’t seen their doctor about it.

When it came to productivity, those with a sleep disorder were at a significant disadvantage. Their workplace productivity loss was 40 per cent greater than those without a sleep disorder. That was mostly down to “presenteeism” – where you go to work but don’t fulfill your duties. The authors believe we need to increase awareness of sleep disorders and that they can significantly affect many groups of people, including young people, given the significant impact they have on life, on work, and even on someone’s sleeping partner!


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