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Research reveals poor sleep is more common for Indigenous Australians

10 February 2022

A new study suggests sleep disorders in Indigenous Australian are more common than for non-Indigenous Australians and have worse effects.

Dr Yaqoot Fatima, a Life Course Centre Associate Investigator at The University of Queensland’s Institute for Social Science Research, was part of a team that led the Indigenous sleep study, published in The Lancet Regional Health-Western Pacific journal. Dr Fatima is also a Senior Research Fellow at James Cook University’s Murtupuni Centre for Rural and Remote Health in Mount Isa. Other researchers on the team included Professor Sarah Blunden from Central Queensland University and Dr Stephanie Yiallourou from Monash University.

Dr Yiallourou said there is a lack of research into the sleep health of Indigenous Australians, with the research team finding only nine studies, covering just over 2600 people to analyse. “Just over 20% of non-Indigenous adults and nearly 35% of Indigenous Australians report a high prevalence of unhealthy sleep. We define that as problems initiating and/or maintaining sleep, short sleep, disrupted or restless sleep or excessive sleepiness,” Professor Blunden said.

Dr Fatima said sleep health is a cornerstone of general health and well-being. “We know about the negative impact of poor sleep on the metabolic, cardiovascular, immune system and respiratory health,” Dr Fatima said. “Poor sleep quality and quantity are also strongly associated with deficits in emotional, educational, neuropsychological, psychosocial health, well-being, and performance.” Dr Fatima said specifically, Indigenous Australians had high rates of sleep disordered breathing together with other indicators of poor-quality sleep such as snoring and sleepiness.

“The good news is that we know sleep health is modifiable,” Dr Fatima said. “So the prospect of improving sleep and subsequently improving downstream variables, including those chronic diseases related to poor sleep such as diabetes and hypertension, more common in Indigenous Australians, appears possible.”

All three researchers are members of the Indigenous Sleep Health Working Party of the Australasian Sleep Association. View the ‘Sleep Health in indigenous Australians’ report here.

Contact: Dr Yaqoot Fatima on 0457 024 222; fatima.yaqoot@uq.edu.au