Sleep Awareness Week | March 14-20

Sleep Awareness Week | March 14-20

By Amanda Nash
TDHS Community Health Nurse

This week is Sleep Awareness Week (March 14-20) and this Friday (March 19) is World Sleep Day. This annual event highlights the importance of sleep health and encourages the public to prioritise sleep to improve their overall health and well-being.

The theme for 2021 is Regular Sleep, Healthy Future #SleepAwarenessWeek #MakeSleepaPriority

The focus on regular sleep for 2021 is based on the benefits that regular sleep offers. Studies have demonstrated that stable bedtimes and rise times are associated with better sleep quality in young, middle-aged adults, and seniors.  Regular sleepers have better mood, psychomotor performance, and academic achievement.

But, how can we have a regular sleep? We need to remember the two processes that regulate both the timing and length of sleep: Circadian regulation (process C) and homeostatic control (process S) also known as the two-process model of sleep.

Although many other factors affect sleep, such as environment, stress, and medications; understanding these two processes will help us strive towards a consistent sleep schedule.  Process C refers to our internal clock, regulated by a part of our brain called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) of the hypothalamus. This clock regulates and controls the 24-hour sleep-wake cycle via the influence of light and melatonin.

In the absence of light (as during the evening hours) melatonin is produced promoting sleep but in the presence of light, the production of melatonin ceases, signaling our brain that is daytime and we need to wake up. Our behavior can override these natural signals. For instance, bright lights at night shut down the production of melatonin, delaying sleep until late hours of the night.

Process S promotes sleep based on the previous amount of time that we spent awake. During wakefulness our brain accumulates substances that promote sleep, when we sleep these substances are cleared up and we feel alert again. This process is particular important when we take naps in the afternoon, because we deplete the sleep promoting substances and we are not able to fall asleep at a reasonable time in the evening.
The best sleep is when we synchronize our sleep/wake times to our internal clock and our sleep propensity finding the perfect equilibrium between process C and process S.

It is important to remember that sleep is involved with many physiologic systems such as memory consolidation, control of inflammation, hormone regulation, cardiovascular regulation and many other important functions, therefore insufficient sleep duration and poor sleep quality will be associated with several significant adverse health outcomes. Reduced sleep duration has been shown to cause impairments in cognitive and executive function, while poor sleep has been associated with poor mental health.

World Sleep Society recommends the following steps to achieve healthy sleep

  • Fix a bedtime and an awakening time.
  • If you are in the habit of taking a nap, do not exceed 45 minutes of daytime sleep.
  • Avoid excessive alcohol ingestion 4 hours before bedtime and do not smoke.
  • Avoid caffeine 6 hours before bedtime. This includes coffee, tea and many sodas, as well as chocolate.
  • Avoid heavy, spicy, or sugary foods 4 hours before bedtime. A light snack before bed is acceptable.
  • Exercise regularly, but not right before bed.
  • Use comfortable bedding.
  • Find a comfortable temperature setting for sleeping and keep the room well ventilated.
  • Block out all distracting noise and eliminate as much light as possible.
  • Reserve the bed for sleep and sex.
  • Don’t use the bed as an office, workroom or recreation room. Limit blue light from computers – it can reduce the melatonin levels required for sleep.

World Sleep Day March 19

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