Sleep is an essential component to overall health, yet its importance is only highlighted when it is lacking.

CanSleep’s Dr Michael Hlavac said sleep was vital to wellbeing and health.

“There are three ‘cornerstones’ of health. Diet and exercise are two, and sleep is the third.”

He said sleep was still a relatively new area of medicine, with the purpose of sleep still somewhat of a mystery.

“We do know that it is an opportunity for the brain to rid itself of the bad chemicals that it has built up over the day.”

Sleep also allowed the brain to consolidate what it had learned over the day, he said.

Sleep Well Clinic director Dr Alex Bartle said sleep played a part in all areas of health.

It was vital to physical health, cardiovascular health, heart health, and blood pressure, he said.

Diabetes and obesity, as well as cognitive functions like decision making and memory, were also affected by sleep.

“For our emotional health too, it plays a big part. In depression and anxiety it can be both a cause and effect.”

Sleep hygiene – or the habits and behaviours around sleep – was important to quality sleep.

Bartle said theoretically we spend almost one-third of our lives sleeping.

“So we need to try to do it as well as we possibly can.”

The use of stimulants like caffeine, alcohol and nicotine, the temperature of a bedroom, and the use of screens and devices could all play a part in the quality of sleep.

He said “stimulus control” was an important part of good sleep.

“Basically that means ‘bed is for sleeping’. If you’re lying awake and you can’t sleep, get up for 15 minutes and try some relaxation techniques or some journaling, and then go back to bed.”

Sleep efficiency is another tip for sleeping, Bartle said.

“This is the amount of time you spend asleep while in bed.”

Bartle said sleeping tablets might “slug you out” initially, but not long term.

“Try and work with your natural clock, for a nurse that is a night owl, a morning shift is going to cause stress, but they might be well suited for night shifts.”

He said six hours of sleep was the “watershed” amount of sleep.

“Constantly less than six hours is not good, it’s not healthy. But this insistence on eight hours isn’t helpful either.”

Hvalac said it was important to be consistent with the timing of sleep.

“Sleep patterns are governed by your body clock. Even small changes like staying up late on the weekends are enough to reset your clock.”

Hvalac said people did need to reappraise their priority of sleep.

“We do tend to prioritise other things to the detriment of our health, but there is no substitute for sleep.”

Bartle said sleep needed to be talked about more by the general public, but especially for those that struggled.

“Do not ignore it. Talk about it, go see someone. It is no good mentioning it on the way out the door from the doctor. There are people that can help.”

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