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Not so long ago, days started and ended with the sun. People woke at sunrise and slept when darkness fell, following the natural rhythms of day and night.
These days, life is very different. We live in a high-tech digital society where we can work, play, socialize and even shop 24-hours a day. With a few taps on the keyboard, we can engage with people in any time zone. We can do business from home, dressed in our pajamas. By the glow of our computers, the distinction between day and night doesn’t matter quite as much as it used to. When you couple that with the increasing demands on our time from a world in constant motion, for many of us, 8 hours of sleep has become a thing of the past.
Unfortunately, this loss of sleep comes at a hefty cost. Research shows that we need nightly sleep not only to feel rested but for our physical and mental well-being. Yet, the importance of sleep is often shortchanged, even by medical professionals.
That’s where World Sleep Day comes in.
WHAT IS WORLD SLEEP DAY?
So, what is World Sleep Day? Created back in 2008 by professionals specializing in sleep medicine and research, World Sleep Day is an annual event that raises general awareness about the benefits of sleep and what happens to our bodies and minds when we don’t get enough of it. Sponsored by the World Sleep Society (WSS), World Sleep Day is not only a celebration of slumber but a call to action for our society, including health providers, to take this growing health concern seriously.
As of 2018, World Sleep Day boasted nearly 300 delegates, with at least 55 countries participating and 149 related activities being promoted on worldsleepday.org. The 2018 event was covered by a variety of global media organizations, including CNBC, USA Today and Forbes, giving it further traction. The event even trended on Twitter, reaching number 2 on the list of top trends for the United States, United Kingdom, and the world.
WORLD SLEEP DAY 2019
This year, World Sleep Day is scheduled for March 15th. Dedicated to promoting worldwide sleep health through education, research and better public policy, World Sleep Day will gather together medical providers, researchers and the general public for another year of sleep awareness and sleep celebration. This year’s theme – “Healthy Sleep, Healthy Aging” – emphasizes the importance of getting a good night’s sleep at any age.
As in previous years, delegates will be exchanging ideas and working toward advancing our collective knowledge of sleep health, including sleep disorders, circadian rhythms, and sleep medicine. Special attention will be given to areas of the world where current knowledge is limited.
WHAT’S SO IMPORTANT ABOUT SLEEP?
According to the National Institutes of Health, sleep affects not just our physical health, but our mental health too. While a good night’s sleep can help us feel rested, it also promotes clearer thinking, better focus and – as any athlete will tell you – faster reflexes. It even affects the creation of memories. Individuals who get enough sleep demonstrate increased productivity, making them better able to function at the office, at home, and while driving.
Additionally, sleep affects almost every system in our bodies, influencing everything from our hormones to our appetites. Sleep experts at NIH believe that sleep is essential in maintaining a healthy weight, a functioning immune system, and repairing cells throughout the body. Sleep can even play a part in disease prevention by reducing inflammation.
WHAT CONSTITUTES A HEALTHY NIGHT’S SLEEP?
Not everyone needs the same amount of sleep. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, the greatest influence on how much sleep we need is our age. Most adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night while babies can snooze up to 18 hours a day, which is essential to ensure healthy development and growth. Children and teens also require more sleep than adults, ideally around 9.5 hours a night.
Even adults of the same age may have different sleep requirements, and an individual is often the best judge of how much sleep they need to maintain a healthy standard of living. The bottom line is if you aren’t waking up feeling alert and rested, chances are you aren’t getting enough sleep.
Unfortunately, sleep quality declines with age. Adults over 60 tend to sleep less and experience lighter sleep, often awakening multiple times throughout the night. To make matters worse, this problem may be caused or exacerbated by many common medications.
HOW TO PROMOTE HEALTHY SLEEP
So what can you do to get a better night’s sleep? There are several proven strategies to help promote healthy sleep for people of all ages. The World Sleep Society’s 10 Commandments of Sleep Hygiene for Adults recommends establishing a regular bedtime, avoiding caffeinated foods and beverages for 6 hours prior to sleep and choosing comfortable bedding. A separate list regarding sleep hygiene for children is also available.
To build better sleep habits, U.S. News and World Report recommends reducing noise, lowering the temperature, and keeping a clean, clutter-free bedroom.
Individuals struggling with serious sleep issues should contact a medical professional for advice and additional resources.
HOW TO GET INVOLVED IN WORLD SLEEP DAY
For 2019, World Sleep Day events are taking place in over 80 countries across the world, from Belgium to Bangladesh and beyond. In the United States, interested individuals can participate in a number of festivities, including those listed below:
- Check out mini sessions at Start With Sleep, a wellness center in Buffalo, New York, which provides a variety of sleep-related services, such as yoga classes, sleep testing and aromatherapy.
- Attend an educational session on healthy sleep (and grab some freebies while you’re at it) at Michigan Medicine Sleep Disorders Centers in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
- Participate virtually via a Facebook webinar from Dream Baby Sleep, which is geared toward increasing the understanding of healthy sleep practices for babies and toddlers.
- Further your professional education at a one-day sleep symposium for researchers and clinicians, led by Marie-Pierre St-Onge, the director of Columbia University’s sleep center. The symposium will be held at the Columbia University Medical Center in New York City and will tackle the topic of sleep and brain health.
For shareable flyers, sleep resources and facts and a list of activities, visit World Sleep Day’s official website.
If you can’t make it to one of World Sleep Day’s official events, that’s okay, too. After all, maybe the best way to celebrate World Sleep Day is the most obvious. Turn the lights off, climb into bed and pull the covers up tight to treat your mind and body to some much-needed rest.