Words Jeannie Croucher
Sleeping is a basic part of all our lives and we human beings spend, on average, one third of our lives engaging in it. We are so accustomed to going to bed when it becomes dark and getting up when it’s bright that we often don’t question or think seriously about its importance to our very existence. In recent years, there have been many studies carried out and articles printed about what constitutes a healthy lifestyle, with a large emphasis on improving our eating and drinking habits, the recommendation of engaging in some daily physical activity and an awareness of the importance of avoiding too much stress, which we now know can lead to an increased risk of illness.
However, sleep is one area of health that many of us think we know a lot about but regularly underestimate. With the 24/7, fast paced world in which we live, people appear to be getting far less sleep than the amount needed to function properly, especially adults, and the statistics prove that the situation is worsening. It is a problem that is not only affecting western countries but a global phenomenon, the potential consequences of which are alarming.
According to Arianna Huffington, in her most recent book, The Sleep Revolution: Transforming your Life one Night at a Time, this crisis of sleep deprivation is having devastating effects on our lives, from its negative influence on our ability to work, our relationships and our overall health. It is an area with which we need to re-engage and take responsibility for ourselves to be able to cope successfully with all the challenges we may encounter in our daily lives.
Studies have shown us that the amount of sleep recommended varies with age, with newborns needing between ten and eighteen hours per day, teenagers eight to ten, and adults who need seven to nine hours daily. The exact amount of sleep a woman or man needs is unique or individual to them and depends on many factors which can include age, health, physical exertion and mental activity. However the minimum amount required for a good night’s sleep for most adults is generally considered to be seven hours. Any amount less than this can be hazardous to a person’s safety, as concentration and alertness are diminished. This can lead to the occurrence of various types of accidents as fatigue and sleepiness can set in, for example, when driving for a period of time. It is estimated that fatigue is a factor in 10% of fatal car crashes and 57% in the case of truck drivers.
Sleeping disorders are not uncommon. They include insomnia, which is characterised as a difficulty in falling asleep and the more potentially life threatening, sleep apnoea, where pauses in breathing are observed and narcolepsy, which is a neurological disorder involving the loss of the brain’s ability to regulate sleep-wake cycles. The interest in these disorders has increased over recent years as has the advice on how to treat them. However there are still many people who have not yet been diagnosed as having a sleeping problem or worse still, they have been misdiagnosed.