Let's yarn about sleep

  • Australia's first ever Indigenous Sleep Coaches (L to R): Ms Roslyn Von Senden, Mr Jamie Dunne and Ms Karen Chong.

Australia's first ever Indigenous Sleep Coaches (L to R): Ms Roslyn Von Senden, Mr Jamie Dunne and Ms Karen Chong.

There is no denying that good sleep is vital for proper functioning, productivity, and physical and mental health. Unfortunately, many Australians struggle with poor sleep, significantly impacting their health and wellbeing. While population-level sleep health initiatives are needed for everyone to benefit from a healthy sleep, the impact of poor sleep on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (hereafter respectfully referred to as First Nations) peoples is particularly concerning.

Growing evidence suggests that First Nations Australians experience unacceptably high rates of poor sleep, further contributing to already high rates of chronic conditions and poor social and emotional wellbeing. In addition to the physical and mental health impact, for First Nations peoples sleep also plays a role in their cultural connection. Many First Nations people believe that dreaming provides them with an opportunity to connect with their ancestors and get their guidance, be prepared for future events and get ideas for expressing their creative abilities in the form of singing, dancing and artwork.

Considering the modifiable nature of sleep, many sleep issues are potentially preventable and amenable to behavioural intervention if adequate services can be availed. However, timely access to specialist sleep services in remote First Nations communities is a major challenge. Firstly, such services are rarely available in remote communities. Secondly, mainstream western services and programs are not always responsive to the cultural needs of First Nations peoples and therefore fail to engage patients. Furthermore, long wait times (more than eight months), and logistical or financial challenges in accessing metropolitan services, deter many people from seeking timely care.

In response to community need and services gaps, researchers, service providers and community members have co-developed a community-wide vision for sleep health equity in First Nations communities. The resulting ground-up movement – Let's Yarn About Sleep (LYAS) – is laying the path to sleep health equity through community leadership, integration of two worldviews and local capacity building.

The LYAS team is leading a suite of programs offering specialist sleep health services in remote First Nations communities in Queensland. The LYAS programs are supported through major national and regional funding schemes, leading Australian universities, hospital and health services, Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations, First Nations health and wellbeing services, Beyond Blue, Sleep Health Foundation and Mob FM.

The program’s overarching objectives are to:

  • integrate traditional and western knowledge for co-designing sleep health programs and services
  • partner with community members to develop training frameworks for First Nations workforce and educational resources for community members
  • train and upskill First Nations people to become ‘sleep coaches’ and ‘sleep technologists’ 
  • deliver culturally responsive sleep health care in First Nations communities
  • co-develop evaluation frameworks and approaches for embedding community-identified success indicators in program and service evaluation.

The effort and leadership of community members, researchers and service providers have led to training two First Nations people – Ms Karen Chong, a Waanyi Garawa Gangalida woman, and Mr Jamie Dunne, a proud Arunta man – as Australia’s first-ever Indigenous sleep coaches. 

Ms Roslyn Von Senden, a Kalkadoon woman from Mount Isa, is supporting the work as Senior Project Coordinator and receiving training to become a sleep coach. Karen feels that the sleep health of her people has been neglected for far too long and, as the custodians of the oldest continuing culture, which has been shaped by dreams, the sleep health of her people should be a top priority.

The LYAS team is keen on building partnerships and collaborating with other programs, services and researchers and we invite them to yarn with us. For further information on the program, please contact [email protected] or [email protected]

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