Sleep health advice ‘not just for patients with insomnia’

Morgan Liotta

21/02/2024 2:11:01 PM

Rather, it should be a part of chronic disease prevention and management plans, Chair of the RACGP’s Healthy Habits program says.

Looking at Sleep Health app on phone
Evidence-based sleep health advice has now been added to the Healthy Habits program under a range of common conditions for which patients see their GP.

A new Sleep Health feature has been integrated into the Healthy Habits digital app to help patients develop healthier behaviours and address environmental and lifestyle factors that enable better sleep health.
The recently launched Healthy Habits program, a collaboration with the RACGP and Department of Health and Aged Care, is designed to support GP–patient relationships around make positive lifestyle choices to support preventive care.
For the app’s latest feature, the RACGP’s Healthy Habits Expert Advisory Working Group consulted with other sleep health experts and the Mitchell Institute, which recently developed a policy evidence brief on sleep health, to co-design the module which was tested among patients and primary healthcare professionals.
The addition means clinicians can now view patients’ sleep health goals and progress in the same way that they track their physical activity and nutrition goals and progress.
Professor Mark Harris, Chair of the Healthy Habits Working Group, told newsGP the new feature is designed to help GPs assess patient sleep habits, as well as provide practical advice and links to other help.
‘Like the other components of Healthy Habits, it supports [patients] to set and monitor goals to improve their sleep habits with the help of patient education resources,’ he said.
‘It also allows the GP to monitor their progress with their goals.’
Developed with the support of the Australian Sleep Health Foundation and the Australasian Sleep Association, this new feature also helps GPs support patients with chronic disease management plans for their sleep health goals via:   

  • the clinician dashboard – monitor patient goals they set up in their Healthy Habits app to support the next conversation
  • condition-specific advice – refer to evidence-based physical activity, nutrition and sleep health clinical guidelines and recommendations for a range of common chronic conditions
  • the resource hub – find and refer information and tools for patients, including social prescribing programs, as well as clinical guidelines and CPD for GPs
  • Sleep Health CPD – the RACGP is developing a one-hour CPD Accredited Activity for GPs and practice teams to apply evidence-based methods for promoting preventive sleep health behaviours and managing patients’ sleep problems, which will be available soon.
In the Mitchell Institute’s recent policy evidence brief, sleep, exercise and diet are described as the ‘three pillars of a healthy life’ which individually contribute to health and wellbeing, positively or negatively, and each influences the other. 
Well-known chronic disease risk factors such as unhealthy diets, physical inactivity, tobacco use and alcohol consumption are also risk factors for, and potential consequences of, poor sleep health. 
The addition of the Healthy Habits goal setting section for sleep health provides advice around how to set goals related to quantity, quality and consistency, which is an essential function of preventive health, according to Professor Harris.
‘[Sleep health advice] is not just for patients who complain of insomnia – it should be a part of the chronic disease prevention and management plan for many patients,’ he said.
‘Poor sleep has been demonstrated to be an important risk factor for many chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease.
‘The Sleep Health feature nicely complements the other two components of Healthy Habits, diet and physical activity, especially as healthy diet and physical activity can help promote healthy sleep and vice-versa.’   
In 2023, the RACGP’s Healthy Habits Expert Advisory Working Group conducted a national evaluation of the program, collecting feedback from GPs who have used the program.
During the evaluation, 78% of GPs stated that the inclusion of a sleep feature would be beneficial to achieving intended patient outcomes while using the tool, and 55% mentioned the need to include sleep to shape Healthy Habits as a holistic resource that could be more comprehensive and ‘cover people’s lifestyle more broadly’.
Overall, they gave positive feedback on the concept of including of a sleep health module within the program and noted the importance of incorporating sleep and mental wellness as ‘pillars of preventive health’.
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chronic disease management Healthy Habits lifestyle preventive health sleep health

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