Scientists keen to improve ‘poor’ Indigenous sleep health



Scientists are hoping to improve sleep health among Indigenous Australians after new research found they are far more likely to experience unhealthy slumber.

Sleep coaches are being deployed in north-west Queensland to work with Indigenous youngsters in what is set to become the first of many projects in Australian communities.

James Cook University’s Yaqoot Fatima was part of a team that found while there was little research on Indigenous Australians’ sleep health, the limited results were startling.

Data from nine studies on the topic indicated nearly 35 per cent of Indigenous Australians reported a high prevalence of unhealthy sleep, compared to 20 per cent of non-Indigenous adults.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if those figures were a lot higher, based on anecdotal evidence and through our work,” Dr Fatima said.

“Based on this data we have found that sleep health for Indigenous Australians is really poor but it is not understood well.

“We are taking the next step to cover that, starting in the Queensland community and want to take it to other places like Darwin hopefully next year.”

Two Indigenous youth workers have been trained as sleep coaches and will work with 120 young people in Mount Isa communities, with data to be collected from late August.

“It has been in consultation with community elders so the sleep coaches have a full understanding of the science of sleep as well as how they can run sessions using the cultural knowledge they have acquired,” Dr Fatima said.

Data will be collected with questionnaires and worn sleep trackers.

Dr Fatima said there could be many reasons for poor sleep health in Indigenous communities, but was confident the coaches can provide the specialist services to address them.

“The sleep coach has been given the tools to not only help improve sleep but also thanks to information from community elders how to approach their head space with other issues such as drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence and intergenerational trauma,” she said.

Funded by the Medical Research Future Fund and run by Young People Ahead, the Mount Isa program is set to expand to six other remote Queensland communities and potentially Darwin.

“It is definitely the first time in Australia this has been done in Indigenous communities and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the first in the world,” Dr Fatima said.

“We know that this program can be transferred to other Indigenous communities with a bit of tweaking.

“Young people especially seem to think that if they sacrifice their sleep they can catch up later – we hope to shift that mindset so that they can lead a happy, healthy life.”


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