House debates

Monday, 18 March 2024

Private Members' Business

Health Care: Sleep

7:11 pm

Photo of Mike FreelanderMike Freelander (Macarthur, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That this House:

(1) acknowledges that:

(a) sleep is essential to good physical health and to mental and emotional wellbeing;

(b) insufficient sleep increases risks to long-term physical and mental health;

(c) four in every ten Australians currently experience inadequate sleep; and

(d) inadequate sleep has substantial economic and productivity costs for Australia;

(2) notes the:

(a) recent SBS television series 'Australia's Sleep Revolution' with Dr Michael Mosley and its role in raising awareness of the importance of sleep to health and wellbeing;

(b) eleven recommendations of the inquiry and report, Bedtime Reading, which was completed in the 45th Parliament by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Health, Aged Care and Sport;

(c) committee's bipartisan and comprehensive recommendations which highlighted the need for sleep health to be recognised as a national priority due to its health significance;

(d) Government's response to the report published in August 2023, which supported or supported in-principle ten of the eleven recommendations made by the committee; and

(e) Government's focus on sleep health as a national priority alongside fitness and nutrition; and

(3) recognises the sustained attention required by the Government, in collaboration with states and territories, to ensure our health system acknowledges, addresses, and responds to the growing prevalence of inadequate sleep and its harmful impacts on health, well-being, and social and economic outcomes.

Sleep is often an afterthought for many Australians. Despite our supposedly laid-back lifestyle, we often find ourselves on the go and pressed for time every day, and no more so than in this parliament. As a result, our sleep suffers, as does our overall health. As a parent, a grandparent, a paediatrician and a politician I've seen firsthand how a lack of sleep affects those around me, including me and my family. As a paediatrician I've often sat in my office and heard from rather hollow-eyed parents about the sleep of their newborn or their toddler and how it's affecting them, their families and their health.

Inadequate sleep and sleep disorders can have serious health complications. It can lead to conditions such as cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, cognitive decline and deterioration, and other health conditions such as multiple sclerosis. With health issues, prevention is the answer, and it should be the key focus of how we deal with sleep issues. This is particularly important for my electorate of Macarthur, as we have many individuals working in roles that have shiftwork, that have overnight or late-hour shifts, such as in emergency services, public transport services and the logistics industries. Even in my own industry of health we've seen how people can be affected by long shifts, poor sleep and having to deal with family life as well as the long working hours.

I firmly believe also that every member of this House would acknowledge the importance of sleep. I don't know how many of our colleagues have come to see me about their poor sleep and the difficulty they're having coping with the workload of a parliamentarian or a staffer. My good friend the member for Fremantle, Josh Wilson, and his staff travel from Western Australia each sitting week and need to adjust their own body clocks every sitting week to deal with the long travel time and the lifestyle of a parliamentarian and parliamentary staff.

I'd also like to thank the member for Fremantle for seconding this motion. Together we are rather minor celebrities—although he is much more of a celebrity than me—as we feature in this Wednesday's episode of the SBS documentary Australia's sleep revolution with Dr Michael Mosley. We've had our sleep study, alongside those of the member for New England and Senator Jacqui Lambie, and we got some surprises. I can say that I'm not the least healthy member of that quartet, but I didn't do well, much to my surprise.

I was proud to serve as the deputy chair of the Standing Committee on Health, Aged Care and Sport in the last parliament, and I'm proud to now serve as chair of the committee. In the previous parliament, it was alongside my friend the former member for North Sydney and then chair of the committee Trent Zimmerman that we produced the report on our inquiry into sleep health awareness in Australia. We found that almost four in every 10 Australians were not having enough quality sleep, which comes at an obvious cost to the country and to the economy but also to the individual's health. There was also a Deloitte report from 2016 with the finding that, during that period, the Australian economy lost $66 billion due to inadequate sleep.

Our report, which was appropriately entitled Bedtime reading, contained 11 recommendations that sought to address the impact of poor sleep hygiene and inadequate sleep on the Australian community. Our recommendations were: better recognition of sleep health as a priority health and wellbeing issue, revised guidelines and processes for addressing inadequate sleep, a review of available sleep health services and therapies Australia, including eligibility requirements for these services, and mechanisms by which they are funded. We also suggested the listing of supporting medication for sleep disorders under the orphan drug program, including medications for things like narcolepsy. We suggested changes to sleep health education and training for GPs and specialists and an increased focus on research into sleep health and sleep disorders through the Medical Research Future Fund and the NHMRC.

I would like to also thank the previous Minister for Health and Aged Care, Greg Hunt, for working with us and supporting our inquiry, and also the present Minister for Health and Aged Care, the Hon. Mark Butler, for his work in recognising the importance of how good quality sleep can reduce the risk of chronic diseases. Importantly, our government is supporting the wideranging scope of the inquiry recommendations and is supportive of work already underway. We support further measures to make sure that funding is put in place for this.

7:16 pm

Photo of Josh WilsonJosh Wilson (Fremantle, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I second the motion and reserve the right to speak.

Photo of Jenny WareJenny Ware (Hughes, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak in favour of this motion brought by the member for Macarthur, and I thank the honourable member for bringing this important issue about sleep health to the parliament. Overall, I thank the member for all of the work that he does as Chair of the Standing Committee on Health, Aged Care and Sport, where I am privileged to serve with him.

Sleep health should be recognised for its importance in preventive health and wellbeing alongside other things such as fitness and nutrition. Studies have shown that it is just as important. Approximately one in five Australians are estimated to be affected by major sleep disorders, and these can include obstructive sleep apnoea, insomnia, restless leg syndrome, circadian rhythm disorders and central disorders of excessive sleepiness. Anyone who unfortunately, like me, wakes regularly at one o'clock or two o'clock in the morning, tosses and turns and then tries to function the next day knows the importance that sleep plays in being able to carry out and live our very busy lives.

As well as the immediate effects of fatigue, sleep disorders may also contribute to other health conditions, and these can include diabetes, obesity, mental ill health and cardiovascular disease. Other causes of sleep deprivation include work-life challenges, excessive screen time and poor mental health. It is essential to promote sleep as a foundation of ensuring positive health and wellbeing outcomes in combination with good nutrition and healthy exercise.

I do note that the House Standing Committee on Health, Aged Care and Sport in 2019 was tasked with inquiring into and reporting on sleep health awareness in Australia. Particularly, the committee looked at five main areas: the potential and known causes, impacts and costs of inadequate sleep and sleep disorders on the community; the access to support and treatment available for individuals experiencing inadequate sleep; education, training and professional development available to healthcare workers in the diagnosis, treatment and management of individuals experiencing inadequate sleep and health disorders; workplace awareness, practices and assistance available to those who may be impacted by inadequate sleep or sleep disorders, particularly focusing on rostering practices for shift workers, for example; and, finally, current national research and investment into sleep health and sleeping disorders. The final report made 11 recommendations to the Australian government in relation to national health priorities, guidelines for workplaces, the MBS, the orphan drug program, market competition, research, the role of GPs and specialist treatments and community awareness, particularly among vulnerable groups.

Overwhelmingly, though, the committee recommended that the government prioritise sleep health as a national priority and recognise its importance to health and wellbeing hand in hand with fitness and nutrition. I am pleased to say that the government responded in August 2023 and has adopted in principle or in full most of those recommendations. I commend the minister for that decision.

When in government, the coalition introduced the National Preventive Health Strategy, which aimed to provide more balance to the health system by enhancing the focus on prevention. It's very pleasing that the current government has continued with this strategy which recognises that sleep predominantly, alongside nutrition and physical activity, is essential to preventing poor physical health and wellbeing. The length and quality of sleep over the life course are also recognised as protective factors contributing to positive mental health and wellbeing throughout life.

When we have evidence that indicates that developing and maintaining good sleep habits can support positive health outcomes, particularly where those habits are established at an early stage of the life course, I commend both this motion and the actions of the government and the previous standing committee on health for bringing this important matter to the parliament.

7:21 pm

Photo of Josh WilsonJosh Wilson (Fremantle, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It's always good to be reminded that some of the most powerful contributions to health and wellbeing happen to be relatively basic and accessible elements of day-to-day life—what we eat, what we do with exercise and how we sleep. But perhaps that third element doesn't get the attention it deserves, and I'm glad to be part of this motion with the members for Macarthur and Hughes to try to change that to a small degree.

There's certainly evidence that too many Australians sleep badly and that too many of us are taking poor sleep for granted, or, at least, feeling like there's no real alternative other than to put up with something we assume can't be fixed. That's wrong, and it's consigning millions of Australians to unnecessary and sometimes quite serious impacts on their physical and mental health with broader consequences for productivity and health system costs.

In 2019, the Standing Committee on Health, Aged Care and Sport tabled a report titled Bedtime Reading: Inquiry into Sleep Health Awareness in Australia, which the member for Macarthur played a key role in. It pointed to the fact that four in 10 Australians report at least one sleep related problem, up to half of 16- to 17-year-olds are not getting enough sleep on school nights and that one in five adults are diagnosed with a sleep disorder, if you combine obstructive sleep apnoea, restless leg syndrome and insomnia. And that's pretty rough. I know people in my family and among my friends who contribute to those statistics.

Beyond the personal impact, Deloitte has assessed the economy-wide financial costs of inadequate sleep as comprising $1.8 billion in health system costs and $17.9 billion in lost productivity. If you look at it the other way around, the benefits of good sleep are almost impossible to overstate. In the Bedtime Reading report, Professor Matthew Walker stated:

… there does not seem to be one major organ in the body, or process within the brain that is not optimally enhanced by sleep (and detrimentally impaired when we do not get enough).

I'm grateful to the member for Macarthur for bringing the motion and for his work on this issue over a number of years. The motion, to some degree, has been prompted by our shared participation in the SBS series Australia's Sleep Revolution with Dr Michael Mosley and the excellent people from the University of South Australia. The final episode runs this Wednesday. I'm not going to suggest that it will help you go to sleep; I think it's actually reasonably exciting. I wholeheartedly endorse the message and mission that lie at the core of the series, namely that we need to wake up, hopefully, after eight peaceful hours, to the vital importance of sleep and that we need to ensure that identifying and remediating poor sleep is a core purpose of primary health care.

As I've said, the three part series concludes on Wednesday. Some of the people in it include four federal parliamentarians: myself, the members for Macarthur and New England, and Senator Lambie. I am definitely the least interesting of that quartet. They focused on us because we all live professional lives that involve frequent travel and a range of other challenges that can impact on the ability to get good sleep but also because we have a role in the national health policy conversation.

I'm lucky to be a relatively good sleeper, and that's probably why I don't feature too much in the documentary. The truth is that I've always recognised a central value of sleep to my broader sense of wellbeing. That's why I prioritise getting enough sleep as much as I can. That's why I make choices in order to give myself the best chance of sleeping well, especially as I travel across Australia something like 20 times a year, back and forth from east to west, and constantly manage a two- to three-hour time difference.

But no-one who experiences seriously poor sleep should blame themselves. Most importantly, no-one should fall into the trap of believing that there's nothing that can be done in order to sleep better. People should talk to their GP. People should check out the information that's available through the Sleep Health Foundation or the 'sleep' page of the Healthdirect website. We all deserve to get better sleep. We shouldn't just take it for granted.

The Albanese government, through the work of Minister Mark Butler, is focused on improving the scope, quality, access and affordability of our public health system at every turn, because we know that Medicare, the PBS, our public hospitals and the new Medicare urgent care clinics are the foundation of our shared wellbeing. When it comes to sleep, the National Preventive Health Strategy will continue to focus on raising awareness of the disorders that contribute to fatigue, high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and poor mental health while looking at new ways to support healthy sleeping.

I want to finish by thanking the team behind the making of Australia's Sleep Revolution, including Artemis Media, a brilliant factual filmmaker in my electorate of Fremantle that was involved in the series. On a completely trivial note, after two weeks of quite bizarre testing and high-tech sleep scrutiny, I was able to come away with a document that states officially that I don't snore, which I consider a big win—that document is very precious to me! Thanks again for having this debate.

Debate adjourned.

Federation Chamber adjourned at 19:26