Every year on the third Friday of March is World Sleep Day – a day when we aim to educate others about the importance of sleep and promote ways of getting good, healthy sleep. Each year also has a theme, such as “good sleep, good aging”, “sleep well, grow healthy” and “drive alert, arrive safe”.
This year’s theme is “restful sleep, easy breathing, healthy body”.
Restful sleep = healthy body
Good sleep is about getting enough sleep, of good quality, at the right time of day.
So how much sleep do we need? Studies show that adults need about 7-9 hours sleep each night. Less than 7 hours sleep has immediate effects: poor decision making, less creativity, slow reaction times, poor motor function, poor mood, and increased relationship conflict. In the long term, it can lead to health problems, such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.
Good quality sleep is not just about the amount of sleep that we get, but also about the structure of our sleep. Our sleep should be made up of all of the sleep stages: light sleep, deep sleep and REM sleep. We should also have minimal awakenings overnight. Light and noise in the bedroom; caffeine, alcohol and nicotine in our system; and stressors in and out of the bedroom can lead to broken sleep, and in turn poor sleep structure.
We get the best sleep when we sleep at night. The timing of our sleep can be altered by not having regular bed and wake times, and by exposing ourselves to bright light in the evening.
- Block out light with good quality curtains. Turn off lamps at night.
- Turn off computer screens, TVs and radios in the bedroom. Turn off audio notifications on phones, tablets and computers. (Better still, place your phone and tablet on the kitchen bench so you’re not tempted to check it in the middle of the night.)
- Avoid caffeine in the 5-8 hours before bed. Keep alcohol intake to a moderate level and avoid alcohol in the 2-3 hours before bed.
- Reserve the bedroom for sleep and sex. Avoid bringing work and recreational activities into bed with you.
- Dim the screens on electronic devices in the evening (computers, tablets, smartphones) and avoid using these devices in the 2 hours before bed.
- Avoid exposing yourself to bright light during the night. Check emails, Facebook and Twitter in the morning.
- Incorporate activities into your day that promote sleep, such as a regular bedtime routine and regular exercise in the late afternoon/early evening. (Avoid intense exercise in the 2-3 hours before bed.)
Easy breathing = restful sleep = healthy body
This year’s theme also focuses on breathing problems during sleep. Obstructive sleep apnoea is a breathing disorder where individuals stop breathing multiple times overnight. It results from the tissue in the upper airway relaxing (collapsing) during sleep. Typically, each apnoeic event results in a drop in oxygen levels in the blood and an awakening from sleep. When someone stops breathing frequently overnight, their sleep can be non-restorative and their daytime functioning can be greatly impaired (see above about short sleep). Long term they have an increased risk of developing high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and obesity.
If you snore very loudly or someone you know tells you that you stop breathing overnight, have a chat with your GP about whether you might have obstructive sleep apnoea.