Passion for peak performance inspires sleep advocate determined to ask tough and taboo questions

09 November 2022

The science is in: better sleep helps humans perform better in elite sport' and in countless other facets of life.

But CQUniversity sleep researcher Dr Michele Lastella says there's still a long road ahead to convince our sleep-resistant society of the benefits.

After more than a decade researching how sleep affects performance for elite athletes' Dr Lastella is passionate about changing the conversation around sleep – even if that means tackling taboo topics.

"A lot of people sacrifice sleep for work time' or social time' or training time – but the science shows sleep has to be part of the program'" he said.

Part of Appleton Institute in Adelaide' CQUniversity's multidisciplinary research institute with a focus on health and well-being at work' rest and play' Dr Lastella has shared his research journey with CQU's IMPACT podcast' for a new series focused on research higher degree alumni.

Dr Lastella's PhD with CQUniversity centred on sleep research with the Australian Institute of Sport' the largest of its kind.

"Athletes would say they didn't get enough sleep' but no one ever explored how much they were sleeping' or the impacts'" he said.

"We were one of the first groups to actually investigate sleep habits across athlete groups from 12 different sports."

While the findings were published nationally and internationally' it was a subsequent research project on sleep and sex that grabbed headlines globally.

"As a sleep researcher' you get so many questions about sleep – and so many people asked me about sex and sleep' how come my partner falls asleep straight away and I can't?" he said.

"People asking questions in the real world is a reflection of the lack of evidence around us' and one of the reasons it hadn't been explored to any in-depth level' because of the taboo – people being scared to talk about sex.

"The thing was' the men were falling asleep and the women weren't' and I thought the orgasm might be a bit of a key here.

"The first study that we did showed that yeah' when there was an orgasm involved' it was an equaliser across men and women – the discrepancy was in who was having the orgasms."

Now supervising the next generation of research higher degree students' Dr Lastella says putting forward controversial ideas is key to good research.

"If we're scared of things' we're never going to get anything done!" he says.

"I always tell my students that' don't be afraid of putting something forward' as long as you have the risks considered' then go for it – don't be holding back because it's risky or scary or taboo or embarrassing."

And striving for better sleep is advice he gives across his academic career' and in his roles as a football coach for the South Australian Women's National Training Centre and assistant coach for Adelaide United in the W-League.

Now about to discover a new stage of sleep as he and his wife prepare to welcome their first baby' Dr Lastella says he's always valued sleep' and that's been key to his high-achieving career.

"The best thing about working in a sleep lab' if someone's taking a nap during the day' no one's looking at you in a bad manner!" he laughed.

"But if you do it in a workplace' they will be judging you. But sleep is something that needs to be made a priority in our society' not just in our sports."

You can listen to the full interview with Dr Lastella on CQUniversity's IMPACT research podcast' follow CQUniversity Podcasts here.

The series highlights the impact and experience of research higher degree alumni' and marks CQUniversity's recent milestone of 1000 RHD graduates.

To explore research degrees with CQUniversity' visit and find scholarship opportunities' current projects' or register for an information webinar.