A quarter of New Zealanders have a chronic sleep problem, according to the World Association of Sleep Medicine.

Today is World Sleep Day, a day to celebrate sleep, and highlight sleep related issues.

Just over half of Kiwis (55 per cent) say they never wake up feeling refreshed, while 25 per cent of us report having a chronic sleep problem.

Studies by the World Association of Sleep Medicine show sleep disorders cost New Zealand at least 40 million dollars a year in lost productivity, and increases the risk of accidents and other illnesses like diabetes, cardiovascular disease and respiratory failure.


Karyn O'Keeffe, from Massey University's Sleep/Wake Research Centre, said insomnia and obstructive sleep apnoea - which causes severe snoring - are the two most common sleep disorders people have.

"Insomnia is trouble getting off to sleep, staying asleep, or waking earlier than you would like, and usually you have some problems functioning during the day - your ability to remember, concentrate or focus is potentially impaired. Usually that is around for at least a month if it is actually insomnia.

"Obstructive sleep apnoea is when you stop breathing during sleep because you're throat has closed itself off and because of that you have lots of wake ups over the course of the night. You end up very broken sleep and then your functioning the next day is impaired because of that."

Ms O'Keeffe said insomnia can affect anyone, often because of life events that causes stress.

"Sometimes it can develop as a chronic condition, so it can be there for a long period of time. We know that it affects people more as they age, and for some reason it affects women more than men.

Obstructive sleep apnoea can have many causes.

"Most people think of it as something that affects males primarily and those that are overweight, but in actual fact it can affect people with normal bodyweight that may have some structures in their throat, such as big tonsils or a jaw that is pushed back or small - there are certain things in terms of the way your face and throat is built that can actually change whether you get sleep apnoea or not.

Sleep specialist Dr Alex Bartle, from the Sleep Well Clinic in Christchurch, said 10-15 per cent of the population suffer from chronic insomnia, while sleep apnoea affects up to 9 per cent of men and 4 per cent of females.


"People who keep waking up through the night and feel awful during the day, often think they've got insomnia, when in fact they have sleep apnoea and they keep waking up. Often, but not always, they are a different group. The insomniacs tend to be, in old-fashioned terms, buzzy people."

Sleep disorders are treatable though, Dr Bartle said.

"A lot of people think that snoring and tolerating poor sleep is normal, but it's not. If you're tired all the time, even if you think that you're getting enough sleep, there's likely to be a problem."

Dr Bartle said there tends to be three factors to insomnia - predisposing factors, such as genetics, what sort of job people have, what sort of stresses they face; precipitating factors, as in an event that has triggered the insomnia, such as a stressful event; perpetuating factors, which is when people have short-term sleeping problems but have not corrected it.

Dr Bartle said people who are using sleeping pills long-term should seek professional assistance with their sleeping.

"In the short term they can be great, but medium-long term they are not helpful," he said. "People are happy taking a pill because it does help them sleep. The problem is they become less effective, and people take more."

Dr Bartle also sees patients with night terrors and sleep walking, as well as sleep paralysis.

"Sleep walking and night terrors happen in the early in the night, they are pretty disturbing. Often associated with stress and fatigue, and there is usually a genetic background to that. As opposed to nightmares, which happen at the end of the night and are just a horrible dreams."

Dr Bartle said having regular routines doing the day, such as eating meals at certain times and eating well, can help promote better sleep.

"Getting outside, being active is really important to the way we sleep at night.

"Just like children really. We know that children and babies routine is paramount to getting them to sleep well, same with adults."

Karyn O'Keeffe's tips for getting good sleep

# Keep your routine regular - have a regular bed time and a regular wake time

# Draw your curtains in the morning to get nature light and avoid exposing yourself to bright lights before you go to bed

# Make sure you have enough time to get enough sleep

# Bedrooms should have no light and no noise, and be at a comfortable temperature

# Remove distractions from bedrooms - computers, televisions, laptops, radios