Driving while sleep-deprived has reached worrying levels in Australia, with 20 per cent of respondents to a new survey admitting they have fallen asleep at the wheel at least once.
Of those, 5 per cent said they had a car accident in the past year because they dozed off or were too tired.
The authors of the national Sleep Health Survey report described sleep issues as a "considerable burden" on public health and warned it not only increased the risk of accidents but could also affect work productivity.
"Alarming numbers report driving when drowsy, and the frequency that young, relatively inexperienced drivers report accidents after dozing off is also a major concern," the report said.
The survey also found 29 per cent of adults drive while drowsy at least once every month, but experiences varied widely between age groups.
"There is a false belief shared by a lot of us that sleep is a waste of time and that we can get away with less than we really need," Sleep Health Foundation director David Hillman said.
"The truth is people who cut corners with their sleep function below their best. They are not as mentally sharp, as vigilant, as attentive or as patient as they would otherwise be."
The University of Adelaide-led study surveyed 1,011 Australians using a representative sample and found almost half of adults reported having two or more sleep-related problems, such as difficulty initiating or maintaining sleep, or daytime sleepiness or fatigue.
"Much of this is due to competing demands on people's time, with a quarter of all adults reporting their usual routine does not allow them to get enough sleep," the report said.
It also found a correlation between internet and mobile phone use before bedtime and a rise in sleep problems.
"Fifty nine per cent of these late-night workers, web surfers, movie watchers or online gamers have more than two sleep problems," Dr Hillman said.
"This is no coincidence. This habit is having a direct and very negative impact on sleep."
'We need a national health strategy'
The Sleep Health Foundation is now calling for a cultural change in Australia and a national strategy to address the issue.
"These worrying results just go to show that sleep is not the national health priority it needs to be," Dr Hillman said.
"Just like obesity, smoking, drinking too much and not exercising enough, sleep problems cause real harm in our community.
"It's high time we moved this issue off the backburner to the forefront of national thinking."