A new Australian study shows that forty-eight percent of people under 35 use an alarm clock to wake up.
On the other hand, eighty-two percent of those over 55 tend to wake up naturally. As for the sexes, one in ten women is usually awoken by someone else, compared to one in twenty men.
The public health campaign LiveLighter, a joint initiative between Cancer Council Victoria and Cancer Council in Western Australia, recently released a study that shows the differences in sleep practices across generations as well as the effects these habits have on health.
The study looked at data regarding health, nutrition and physical activity among more than 2,000 adults, revealing that sleep habits were extremely poor. Nearly a third of participants stated they only got a good night of sleep on occasion or weekly. Forty-four percent of people said they slept well most nights, yet most of these respondents were over 55. Thirty percent of participants over 55 said they slept well every night, more than double the number of people aged 18-34 who reported sleeping well nightly.
Dr. Moira Junge, a health psychologist at the Sleep Health Foundation, said the gap could be the result of a variety of factors, from work stress to different perceptions on what a good night of sleep is. "The unfortunate thing with sleep is, once you've already got a problem with it, the harder you try, the less likely you are to sleep," she said.
Depending on an alarm clock to wake up was most common for those aged 18-34, with 48 percent of participants saying they used one, while only 18 percent of those over 55 used an alarm clock to wake up.
"In general terms, they say it's a healthy sign to be waking without an alarm," said Dr. Junge. An alarm clock can disrupt deep sleep, rather than waking naturally during lighter REM sleep, resulting in a feeling of exhaustion.
Using an alarm clock, however, is not inherently bad. "The concern is more, once you're awake, how awake you are and whether you're able to function in your daily roles," Junge said.
Dietitian and LiveLighter campaign manager Alison McAleese said the statistics were troubling since poor sleep is often linked to negative health outcomes, like weight gain and diminished physical fitness. "Being tired may make us more likely to reach for unhealthy snacks after a bad night’s sleep," she warned. "Many quick snack choices are often high in added sugar and saturated fat and don’t tend to fill us up ... staying up late may also make us feel less motivated to get up and moving the next day."
Earlier this year, the Standing Committee on Health, Aged Care and Sport, made eleven recommendations for government policy on sleep as a health issue. According to a suggestion by the Australian Epidemiological Association to the proposal, "studies indicate that poor habitual sleep increases the risk for the development of chronic health conditions by 20 to 40 percent."
In 2016-17, a Deloitte study estimated that insufficient sleep and its consequences caused 3,017 deaths in Australia, with 77 percent of those deaths linked to the effects of sleep deprivation on heart conditions and 10 percent related to driving while weary.
Dr. Junge says that more education regarding sleep is required. "We should be putting it into the curriculum like we did in the 1970s with [active lifestyle public health campaign] 'Life Be In It'. We need to make sure that young people know sleep is a big part of health."