In school we were taught that sleep is the best form of rest. Sleep is also said to be one of the most essential elements of life. This may have influenced the choice of the theme for 2017 event which is ‘Sleep Soundly, Nurture Life’. Every single human being has experienced it, but when it comes to the subject itself, there is still so much we don’t know. And this is what the World Sleep Day is all about –to put the phenomenon on the front burner of public discourse.
The Day is an annual event, intended to be a celebration of sleep and a call to action on important issues related to sleep, including medicine, education, social aspects and driving. It is organised by the World Sleep Day Committee of the World Association of Sleep Medicine (WASM) since 2008 and aims to lessen the burden of sleep problems on society through better prevention and management of sleep disorders. It is always believed that when we sleep, our bodies begin a healing process.
World Sleep Day is marked every Friday of the second full week of March. This year, it fell on the 17th. It is aimed to celebrate the benefits of good and healthy sleep. Through the World Sleep Day, the WASM tries to raise awareness of sleep disorders and their better understanding and preventability, and to reduce the burden of sleep problems on society that constitute a global epidemic and threaten health and quality of life for as much as 45 per cent of the world’s population. In some countries, it takes its toll also on the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). It has been estimated that sleep deprivation costs the US over $400bn a year with Japan losing $138bn, Germany $60bn, the UK $50bn, and Canada $21bn. Earlier this year, a report suggested the UK loses $50billion (£40.4 billion) and 604,000 working days a year due to sleep deprivation. In 2014, it was estimated that six out of 10 British people are sleep deprived, partly because of the advent of smart phones. Figures for Nigeria are not available.
How can this wastage be avoided? It is accepted that along with diet and lifestyle, sleep is critical to good health and wellbeing. Quality sleep is known to improve alertness, productivity, memory and mood. When we sleep, our bodies begin a healing process. A vital function of sleep is to help consolidate new memories, etching experiences more indelibly. A good night’s sleep is a tiny vacation that is inherent to feeling our best.
Studies have proved that sleep usually passes through five stages including Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. A complete sleep cycle takes an average of 90 to 110 minutes. The first sleep cycles each night have relatively short REM sleep and long periods of deep sleep. But later in the night, REM period lengthen and deep sleep time decreases.
But how do we improve sleep quality? Theoretically, we need to keep the room temperature comfortably cool and the room well ventilated; avoiding bright lights before sleep; staying from caffeine four to six hours before bedtime; have dinner several hours before bedtime; avoiding food that causes indigestion.
Many are not getting the right amount of sleep they need. Long hours at demanding jobs to stress-induced insomnia make sleep sometimes a long way down our list of priorities. The phenomenon was even dubbed a ‘sleep crisis by researchers
But how much sleep do you actually need? There has long been an association with successful people such as heads of government, CEOs and business moguls who have spoken about functioning at a particularly high level on just a few hours of sleep each night. However, the amount of sleep we need varies on many factors, one of which is our age. For instance, the vast amount of sleep children require is because the hormone melatonin, which helps us sleep, reaches its peak at around seven or eight years old. This begins to decrease as we grow older.
In a country like Nigeria, for example, a lot of things make sleep a luxury. The hassles of the day and the challenges of living. Not knowing where the next meal is coming from, inability to pay bills, not having a home to go to, insecurity of lives and property as well as other socio-economic factors engender in themselves the problem that is called insomnia.