World Sleep Day 2015

By Karyn O'Keeffe 12/03/2015

This Friday, 13 March, is World Sleep Day, an event organised each year by the World Association of Sleep Medicine to highlight the importance of sleep to health and wellbeing.  This year’s slogan is ‘when sleep is sound, health and happiness abound.’

Sleep is a common issue for New Zealanders.  In a survey of 10,000 New Zealanders drawn at random from the electoral role, more than a third (37%) felt that they never or rarely got enough sleep.  30.1% of Māori and 24.4% of non-Māori reported getting than 7 hrs each night.

In a survey of 4,000 New Zealanders drawn at random from the electoral role, 27% reported having a current sleep problem and 25% reported having a sleep problem that had lasted more than 6 months.  Women, older individuals, the unemployed and those with lower socioeconomic position were more likely to report insomnia symptoms, such as such as difficulty falling asleep, difficulty staying asleep and waking earlier than desired.  It is likely that 13% of New Zealanders meet criteria for insomnia disorder.

Insufficient sleep has widespread ramifications.  In the short-term, those who get less than 7 hours sleep each night can have problems with concentration and motivation, poorer mood, slower reaction times and poorer coordination, can make poorer decisions and communicate less effectively, and can have trouble regulating their emotions and getting on with others.  In the long-term, those who get less than 6 hours sleep have an increased risk of being obese, developing type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, and having a stroke.

This year, in a landmark move, the National Sleep Foundation released official guidelines for how much sleep we need at each age.  Based on the review of 312 scientific studies by an expert panel, these provide guidance on the recommended daily amounts of sleep for each stage of life, ranging from the newborn through to older adulthood, that experts agree are appropriate for optimal functioning.  There is also acknowledgement that some individuals may need more or less sleep than is recommended, although these are noted as being ‘possibly acceptable’.

So, in light of World Sleep Day, my top ten tips for getting sufficient sleep of good quality:

  1. Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep each night to function at your best and stay well.
  2. A regular bed and wake time (even on weekends) can be extremely helpful for promoting good quality sleep and helping you get off to sleep when you want to.
  3. If you must nap during the day, keep them short and sweet so you don’t affect your night time sleep or leave yourself groggy when you wake.  Aim for 20-40 minutes from the time you put your head down.
  4. Keep alcohol and caffeine intake to a moderate level.  Avoid consuming alcohol in the 2-3 hours and caffeine in the 5-8 hours before bed.
  5. Going to bed hungry may lead you to wake often during the night. A light snack before bed can be helpful.  An overly full stomach at bedtime may lead to discomfort and awakenings overnight.
  6. Regular exercise is a great way to improve the quality of your sleep and helps establish a regular sleep routine. Exercising in the late afternoon, early evening is best. Try to avoid intense exercise in the 2-3 hours before bed.
  7. Light shines through our eyelids while we sleep and can lead to poor quality sleep. Block out as much light as you can with good quality curtains, and make sure all your lamps are turned off at bedtime.
  8. It’s amazing the damage a little noise can do to your sleep. Make sure your radios, TVs, computer, tablets and mobile phones are turned off before bed.
  9. We get off to sleep easiest and get the best quality sleep when the bedroom is reserved for sleep and sex. Avoid bringing work and recreational activities into bed with you.
  10. Being exposed to bright light just before bedtime can make it hard to get off to sleep when you want to. Dim the screens on your tablets, computers and mobile phones in the evening. Ideally, try not to use them in the 2 hours before bed.