Breathe Easily, Sleep Well: World Sleep Day Promotes Healthy, Undisturbed Sleep on March 16, 2012

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"The worst thing in the world," said F. Scott Fitzgerald, "is to try to sleep and not to." Unfortunately, for people all around the globe, lack of quality sleep is a very real problem that can, indeed, feel like the worst thing in the world.

Sleep is a vital component of overall wellbeing, affecting the mental, physical and emotional health of adults and children alike. World Sleep Day is designed to raise awareness of sleep as a human privilege that is often compromised by the habits of modern life—and by sleep problems, such as obstructive sleep apnea.

This is the message the World Association of Sleep Medicine (WASM) will be promoting during the fifth-annual World Sleep Day on Friday, March 16, 2012. Organized by the World Sleep Day Committee (co-chaired by Antonio Culebras and Liboro Parrino), this worldwide event is a platform for medical professionals to deliver the message of the importance of healthy sleep to the public.

Sleep problems constitute a global epidemic affecting up to 45 percent of the world's population. Conditions including insomnia, restless legs syndrome (RLS), sleep deprivation and sleep-related respiratory disturbances, such as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), result in loss of quality sleep that can lead to numerous health problems, such as hypertension, heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Furthermore, insufficient sleep may lead to poor alertness, lack of attention, reduced concentration, decreased work and academic productivity, and even motor vehicle accidents.

A major focus of World Sleep Day 2012 is obstructive sleep apnea, which is a prevalent and often under-recognized problem. The Wisconsin Sleep Cohort Study estimated an OSA prevalence of 24 percent among men and 9 percent among women in that state of the US. In northern India, the prevalence of obstructive sleep apnea is 13.7 percent.

Fortunately, with accurate diagnosis, both adult and pediatric sleep apnea are treatable and correctable. Treatment ranges from non-invasive procedures, such as continuous positive airway pressure (or CPAP, a machine that delivers air at a predetermined pressure through a mask placed over the nose), to oral appliances designed to keep the throat open, to surgery to remove excess tissue from the throat or enlarge the oral container by means of maxillomandibular advancement. Treatment can be life changing, as successful correction of sleep apnea can drastically improve sleep quality and overall health.

10 Commandments of Sleep

In addition to clinical sleep problems, poor sleep habits can cause poor quality sleep in adults. To help improve overall sleep and wellness, WSD has launched the 10 Commandments of Sleep Hygiene for Adults:

  1. Establish a regular bedtime and waking time.
  2. If you are in the habit of taking siestas, do not exceed 45 minutes of daytime sleep.
  3. Avoid excessive alcohol ingestion 4 hours before bedtime, and do not smoke.
  4. Avoid caffeine 6 hours before bedtime. This includes coffee, tea and many sodas, as well as chocolate.
  5. Avoid heavy, spicy, or sugary foods 4 hours before bedtime. A light snack before bed is acceptable.
  6. Exercise regularly, but not right before bed.
  7. Use comfortable, inviting bedding.
  8. Find a comfortable sleep temperature setting and keep the room well ventilated.
  9. Block out all distracting noise and eliminate as much light as possible.
  10. Reserve your bed for sleep and sex, avoiding its use for work or general recreation.

Poor sleep affects about 25 percent of the world's children, as well. To help improve children's sleep and overall wellness, WSD has created the 10 Commandments of Healthy Sleep for Children:

  1. Make sure your child gets enough sleep by setting an age-appropriate bedtime and waketime.
  2. Set consistent bedtime and wake-up times on both weekdays and weekends.
  3. Establish a consistent bedtime routine that includes "quiet time."
  4. Encourage your child to fall asleep independently.
  5. Avoid bright light at bedtime and during the night (including light from television or computer screens) and increase light exposure in the morning.
  6. Keep all electronics, including televisions, computers and cell phones, out of the bedroom and limit use of electronics before bedtime.
  7. Maintain a regular daily schedule, including consistent mealtimes.
  8. Have an age-appropriate nap schedule.
  9. Ensure plenty of exercise and time spent outside during the day.
  10. Eliminate foods and beverages containing caffeine.

What You Can Do

World Sleep Day 2012 has partnered with sleep societies, commercial enterprises and individuals around the world to raise awareness about sleep-breathing problems. World Sleep Day events will take place primarily online, featuring educational videos on sleep health, drowsy driving, sleep and education, and public service announcements. For more information, visit worldsleepday.org.

You can also participate in World Sleep Day by:

  • Putting more emphasis on the diagnosis and treatment of sleep disorders in general and of sleep-breathing problems in particular.
  • Spreading the message that more research is needed to completely understand sleep and to understand the causes of sleep disorders.
  • Being cognizant that most sleep problems can be managed by changing behaviors around sleep, medical therapy or cognitive behavioral therapy.
  • Being aware that patients suffering from sleep complaints, or who suffer from excessive daytime sleepiness, should see a physician and, if needed, obtain a consultation in a sleep center.