As the arrival of an eight-hour concert called Sleep at the Auckland Arts Festival draws nearer, the Weekend Herald speaks to Massey University sleep expert Dr Karyn O'Keeffe about why we should all catch some zzzzs.

It helps us function every day and is important to long-term health and wellbeing, but about a quarter of Kiwis are struggling to get enough sleep.

How do you know if you're among them?

According to Dr Karyn O'Keeffe, of Massey University's Sleep Wake Research Centre, needing a weekend sleep-in (or two) is a good indication - and she says up to 27 per cent of us do.

"The average adult needs seven to nine hours' sleep per night to function at their best and stay well. Some people need as little as six hours. Some people may need as many as 10, so it is individual. But outside of that range is not recommended.


"We think about 25 per cent of New Zealanders get less than seven hours' sleep per night, so a good chunk of the population, aren't getting enough sleep."

Read more: Why your weekend sleep-in is bad for you

The immediate effects of lack of sleep included poor decision-making, poor communication, being grumpy and irritable, slower reaction times and being less productive at work, O'Keeffe said.

"In the long term we know that missing out on sleep leads to type 2 diabetes, obesity, increased risk of stroke and heart disease. There's some quite serious health effects if we miss out on sleep on a regular basis for a long period of time."

However, it isn't just about quantity, the quality of sleep matters too.

While waking once or twice during the night was normal (although at times annoying), rousing more than three times wasn't ideal, O'Keeffe said.

As people age their sleep changes, but their need for it doesn't.

"Basically we go from having relatively unbroken sleep to sleep that's punctuated by little mini-awakenings, some of which we're not aware of, but some can actually awaken us to fully awake and they can frustrate us potentially if we're awake for long periods during the night," said O'Keeffe.


"It's quite usual for our sleep to become more broken - so therefore it's more unrefreshing - as we get older."

Massey University Sleep/Wake Research Centre researcher Dr Karyn O'Keeffe says a quarter of Kiwi adults aren't getting enough sleep. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Massey University Sleep/Wake Research Centre researcher Dr Karyn O'Keeffe says a quarter of Kiwi adults aren't getting enough sleep. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Elderly people often found it harder to sleep and so napped during the day.

The weather also affected how people slept - our bodies have to cool down before we can fall asleep, so during hot, and particularly humid, nights people would often be restless.

The best way to combat this was to "trick" your body that it was cooling down, she said.

"You can try and have a shower or a bath before bed that's not too hot that basically heats yourself up a little bit so that you cool down as you're going through the evening and you can maybe get off to sleep a bit easier."

Opening a window to let hot air escape and making sure you don't have too much bedding could also help.

"The other thing you can remember is that napping isn't a bad idea. If you're really not getting enough sleep at night time maybe having a quick nap during the day or in the late afternoon could be a strategy, if that's possible for you," O'Keeffe said.

How to improve your sleep

• Have a regular bedtime routine that helps you relax, such as reading a book.

• Try to wake up at the same time every day, this will help you set a regular bedtime.

• Make sure you're exposed to bright light during the day, this helps to set your circadian body clock.

• Avoid screens and coffee a few hours before bed. Some people think if having a coffee before bed doesn't wake them up, then caffeine doesn't affect their sleep, but O'Keeffe says it reduces the amount of deep sleep we get, causing us to reach for another cup in the morning.

Today's Weekend magazine has more details about the Sleep concert, which is happening on March 16 as part of Auckland Arts Festival.

Win with the Herald on Sunday

The Herald on Sunday has two tickets to Sleep to give away.

The winner will also get a prize pack of sleep essentials, including a Peter Alexander voucher, two Wallace Cotton blankets, a Bohemia Tea pack, a bottle of Sleep Drops and some Casa Lavanda massage oil.

To enter click here.