How to get a good night’s sleep 

6 March 2024by Dr Valeska Berg

Sleep is a vital natural process that allows the body and mind to rest and recover. It plays a crucial role in our physical health, mental well-being, and overall quality of life. This article covers the science of sleep, its benefits, sleep patterns by gender, Australian sleep statistics, the connection between sleep and mental health, and tips for better sleep. 

What is it?

Sleep is a state of reduced mental and physical activity during which consciousness is altered and sensory activity is inhibited. Most of us need about 7-9 hours of sleep a night (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2021). Throughout the night we go through distinct stages, including Rapid Eye Movement (REM) and Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) sleep, each with a specific role in maintaining your health. During sleep, your body’s circadian rhythm, or internal biological ‘clock’, controls when you feel sleepy and when you’re typically awake.

Is there a difference between men’s and women’s sleep?

Research shows that there are significant differences in sleep patterns between men and women (Krishnan et al., 2006). Women spend more time in deep sleep and less time in light sleep compared to men. (Harris, 2019). However, women also experience more sleep fragmentation and lower-quality sleep (Harris, 2019). Why is that? There are several reasons including biological factors – hormones such as estrogen, social factors and expectations, and psychological factors – women find it harder to switch off and have higher rates of anxiety, depression, and stress (Harris, 2019; Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2023; Australian Institute of Family Studies, 2016).

What happens when we don’t get enough sleep?

Missing a few hours of sleep for one night might not cause severe problems, but it can make you feel tired and affect your performance the next day. Even missing as little as 1.5 hours can impact how you feel. You may experience a lack of alertness, excessive daytime sleepiness, changes in mood and impaired memory. It can also affect your ability to think, remember, and process information (Lewis, 2021). Are you curious to see what sleep deprivation up to 40 hours looks like? Check out this video to find out more.

Consistently getting an hour or two less sleep than you need can contribute to slower reaction time, higher risk for physical illness, and worsened mental health symptoms. If this becomes a regular occurrence, it can lead to more serious health issues. Chronic sleep deprivation increases the risk of diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, stroke, and can even trigger mania in people who have bipolar mood disorder (Orzel-gryglewska, 2010). Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition characterised by extreme mood swings that include emotional highs (mania or hypomania) and lows (depression). Sleep problems are a symptom of bipolar disorder and can also trigger mood episodes. Insomnia, in particular, can lead to manic episodes, while hypersomnia (excessive sleepiness) can be a sign of depressive episodes (Gold & Sylvia, 2016).

So, while missing a few hours of sleep occasionally might not be catastrophic, it’s important to ensure that good sleep is the norm and not the exception. If you’re struggling with sleep issues, especially if you have bipolar disorder or another mental health condition, it’s important to seek help from a healthcare professional. They can provide guidance and treatment options to improve your sleep and overall well-being. 

Let’s have a look at some sleep statistics from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2021):

  • 45% of Australian adults feel satisfied with their sleep, while 38% are dissatisfied
  • 40% of Australians are struggling to sleep for 7-9 hours
  • 59.4% experience symptoms at least 3-4 times per week, including trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking too early and not being able to get back to sleep
  • In children aged 12-15, 25% do not sleep for 8-10 hours on school nights, and for children aged 16-17, it’s 50%
  • Only 20% of Australians report sleeping uninterrupted+
  • A significant 20% of Australians fell asleep behind the wheel, and 5% of these accidents occurred
  • Sleepless Australians are almost 80% less productive
  • Australia spends $66.3 billion per year on health and overheads because of sleep distress
  • The average West Australian wakes up at 6.45a

Why is it? The science behind why we might not be getting a good night’s sleep

Why are so many Australians struggling with their sleep? Our sleep can be influenced by many different factors, such as sleep cycles, caffeine, alcohol, technology use, diet, exercise, our beliefs and thoughts, genetics, age, medication, and underlying health conditions such as anxiety, depression, ADHD, and bipolar disorder(Appleton et al., 2018; Burnell et al., 2021; Kutzer et al., 2023;McStay et al., 2021; Tousignant et al., 2019;Roehrs & Roth, 2023; Sehgal & Mignot, 2022; Sciberras et al., 2023; Vitiello et al., 2004; Wang & Boros, 2019).

Besides the more obvious factors, is it possible for our thoughts and beliefs to keep us awake at night? The short answer is yes! Many of us tend to overthink when we attempt to rest. We may be processing the day’s events, planning for the future, going through to do lists in our head, or pondering over other issues that are weighing on our minds. Stress and anxiety can significantly contribute to overthinking and fixation on certain thoughts, leading to difficulties with sleep (Winbush et al., 2007; Staner, 2003). Recent research has investigated how our thoughts and beliefs about our sleep quality can impact our sleep (Kutzer et al., 2023).

Dr Yvonne Kutzer told us about her work:

In our research, we measured people’s sleep and found that those who complained about having poor sleep did not show any objective sleep problems. Whereas, individuals who did not complain about insomnia, were found to have sleep measurements below optimum levels. The sleep complainers had worse self-reported sleep outcomes and higher dysfunctional beliefs. A sleep related dysfunctional belief could for example be “I need 8 hours of sleep to feel refreshed and function well during the day” which often reflects unrealistic expectations.  

Therefore, our unrealistic sleep beliefs and how well we think we sleep may affect our sleep quality. Some of us may think our sleep is worse than it is! Fortunately, a range of psychological therapies for sleep problems is available, which can help us to shift our thinking and develop more realistic expectations around our sleep.”


We have heard about the benefits of quality sleep many times. However, sometimes the benefits are so subtle that we may not immediately notice them.

Dr Valeska Berg says that:

Improving your sleep can have a significant effect on your cognitive functions, your mood, appetite and even your immune system. You may notice that after improving your sleep, you have more energy, can focus better, find it easier to adopt a healthy lifestyle and get sick less. Personally, I have noticed that after practising meditation for several years my sleep quality improved significantly and with that, I got sick less often.”

If you want to investigate your sleep further, it might help you to keep a record of your sleep and well-being. You can do this on paper or with an app, for example, with the Oqea app you can easily track your perceived sleep and wellbeing via the WHO-5 questionnaire and the journalling function. Below are some more suggestions on how to work on your sleep.

Putting it into practice

If you are struggling to get a good night’s sleep, consider addressing one or more of these areas:

Sleep plays a vital role in our mental health. Lack of quality sleep can exacerbate mental health issues, while good sleep can help improve our overall well-being. The complexities of modern life, along with the rise in other mental health conditions, have made prioritising sleep more crucial than ever. 

If you want to learn more about sleep practices, watch out for an upcoming sleep video series on the Oqea Cares channels and check out these articles under the focus area ‘sleep’ on the Oqea app.



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