World sleep awareness month: Why is sleep so important?

Image Source: IANS News
Image Source: IANS News

New Delhi, March 15 (IANSlife) Sleep is an important part of our daily routine -- we spend about one-third of our lives sleeping. Quality sleep -- and getting enough of it at the right times -- is as essential to survival as food and water, says Sibasish Dey, Head, Medical Affairs, Asia and Latin America, ResMed.

Writes the sleep expert:

Globally, studies have shown that sleep along with other benefits, helps in improving our learning and problem solving skills. Whereas sleep deficiency on the other hand alters neuro-cognitive process, and we may experience symptoms such as irritability, poor decision making, low problem-solving skills, depression, loss of memory, among others. Thus, this world sleep awareness month, let's take a pledge to relook at our sleep schedules, maintain a healthy circadian rhythm and also increase conversations around the need for a healthy sleep hygiene as we cannot achieve optimal health without taking care of our sleep.

Why are we sleep deprived?

Barriers to a good sleep cycle may include a hectic lifestyle, long erratic working hours, and sleep disorders. Also, habits such as too much screen time, lack of physical activity, consumption of caffeine before bedtime and low exposure to sunlight may disrupt our sleep cycle. Underlying, sleep disorders are also causative of poor sleep. Insomnia is a widely known disorder, but obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), which is a form of sleep disordered breathing is also a common sleep disorder. OSA is caused due to momentary stopping of breath due to muscle relaxation of neck muscles while sleeping and can lead to repeated micro-awakening during sleep -- thus disrupting sleep. Statistics have shown that around 28 million people suffer from sleep apnea in India, 80 per cent of whom are undiagnosed.

What are the consequences of a disordered sleep cycle?

The cumulative effects of a long period of sleep loss and sleep disorders have been linked to deleterious health consequences, including an impact on our cognitive functions, cardio-metabolic diseases, obesity, impaired immunity, etc. OSA impairs glucose metabolism and promotes weight gain, which puts us at the risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus. Individuals with OSA are at a higher risk of stroke and irregular heart beats. Hence, quite often OSA management goes hand-in-hand along with cardio-vascular medications in individuals who have had a history of cardiac disease.

Few studies have also linked impaired sleep with the risk of cancer. A research at Stanford university has confirmed that sleep deprivation alters the balance of two hormones, cortisol, and melatonin. Cortisol helps in the regulation of immune system activity whereas melatonin helps to fight tumour growth and promote DNA repair, leading to cancer protective effects.

Sleep disorders have also been linked road traffic accidents and major industrial accidents globally.

How can we sleep better?

It is important to be in sync with our body's natural sleep -- wake cycle. We must set aside 8 hours for regular sleep and try to sleep and wake up at the same time every day. Exercise, exposure to sunlight are important to get good sleep. Pre-sleep activities such taking a warm bath and meditation also helps us sleep well.

In case of symptoms such as morning headaches, excessive daytime sleepiness, snoring, breathing pauses during sleep, unexplained fatigue, it is important to seek help of a sleep specialist. With the advent of digital technologies, sleep diagnosis is easily accessible in our bedrooms. One such test is OneSleepTest, which is one of its kind, safe, accurate, simple, and comprehensive home sleep test-kit being distributed by ResMed in India. Battling sleep issues with easy remedies and treatments is the first step we can take to manage the global problem of sleep deficiency. Sleep therapies can help in bringing us closer to living life to the fullest.