On March 19, in addition to Father’s Day, World Sleep Day is celebrated, a date promoted by the World Sleep Society (WSS) with the aim of raising awareness about the need to improve the prevention and treatment of sleep disorders.
Sleep is involved in countless physiological processes, such as memory consolidation, hormonal regulation, control of the immune and inflammatory response, vascular regularization, emotional processing …
«That’s why a poor quality of sleep is often linked to numerous health problems, as well as an increased risk of developing various diseases such as obesity, diabetes, hypertension, vascular diseases, metabolic changes, cancer “, explains Dr. Ana Fernández Arcos, coordinator of the Study Group on Sleep and Wake Disorders of the Spanish Society of Neurology.
But there is more, «it has been shown that reducing the duration of sleep causes, in the short term, impaired cognitive and executive function. And, in the long term, lack of sleep has been associated with poor brain health, increasing the risk of suffering from neurological diseases (such as headaches, stroke, Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s) and mental (depression, anxiety, psychosis …) “, warns Fernández .
What are the most common sleep disorders?
According to data from the Spanish Society of Neurology (SEN) more of 4 million people in Spain suffer from some type of chronic and serious sleep disorder.
In addition, 30% of the Spanish population, that is, about 12 million people wake up feeling like they haven’t had a good night’s sleep or they end the day very tired.
Globally the situation is not much better. The World Sleep Society estimates that sleep problems threaten the health and quality of life of up to 45% of the world’s population.
The SEN estimates that between 20% and 48% of the Spanish adult population, and about 20-25% of the child population, suffer difficulty starting or maintaining sleep.
And the most common problems are:
«Insomnia, sleep apnea-hypopnea syndrome, circadian rhythm disorders, restless legs syndrome, parasomnias, REM sleep conduct disorder, narcolepsy or idiopathic hypersomnia, are sleep disorders more common among the Spanish population “, says Dr. Ana Fernández Arcos.
But there is good news. Most of these disorders can be prevented and treated, although less than a third of the people who suffer from them seek professional help.
What is a good sleep?
There are three elements that mark a good quality sleep:
• Duration, which should be enough to feel rested and be alert the next day (in the adult population it is estimated that this time should be between 7 to 9 hours)
• Continuity, because the periods of dreams should be continuous, without fragmentation or successive awakenings that affect rest.
• Depthas the sleep must be deep enough to be restorative.
“While it is true that sporadic changes in sleep are normal, the quality of sleep is often influenced by inappropriate lifestyle habits, by various social and environmental factors and also by personal situations (traumatic experiences, stress) that can cause changes severe sleep patterns »explains Dr. Fernández.
Sleep and COVID-19
Taking this into account, logically, the feeling of uncertainty that the COVID-19 pandemic is generating has been added as one more factor when it comes to generating problems. And although there are still no exact figures on the impact of the pandemic, some studies already point to a less than encouraging scenario.
Some analyzes indicate that 80% of Spanish health workers suffered insomnia during the months of March, April and May 2020 and that 90% claimed to have suffered some kind of sleep disorder during this period.
“Also that, in this same period, shift workers (healthcare or not) associated a increased likelihood for the development of insomnia, nightmares, sleepwalking, night terrors or loss of quality of sleep in general, “says Dr. Fernández Arcos.
On the other hand, studies carried out in other countries already indicate a 37% increase in the prevalence of clinical insomnia during this pandemic.
And in general, all the studies that have been published to date describe changes in sleep patterns that affect between 50-70% of the people studied.
«All these studies with population data from different origins coincide in pointing out a poorer sleep quality related to increased anxiety or stress caused by the pandemic ».
Additionally, sleep has also been affected in COVID-19 patients. Although sleep dysfunction is common in ICU patients under normal circumstances, it has been seen more severely in ICU patients with COVID-19
Tips for a healthier sleep
On the occasion of World Sleep Day, the World Sleep Society has produced two decalogues (one for the adult population and the other for children) with tips for achieving healthier sleep.
• Establish a fixed time to sleep and wake up.
• If naps are taken, they should not exceed 30 minutes.
• Avoid toxins such as alcohol and tobacco.
• Avoid caffeine six hours before bedtime.
• Try to make light dinners.
• Regular exercise is important, but should be avoided in the evening. The optimal time to exercise is in the morning and, ideally, outdoors.
• Use comfortable bedding.
• Find a comfortable temperature for sleeping and keep the room well ventilated.
• Block out all disturbing noises and eliminate as much light as possible.
• Use the bed only to sleep or have sex.
• Like adults, children should also have a set time to sleep and wake up. Ideally, children under 12 should go to bed before 9 at night.
• Children have an age-appropriate nap schedule and it is a good idea not to overdo it.
• Establish a consistent, positive bedtime routine, such as brushing teeth, singing a good night song, or reading a short bedtime story.
• The bedroom should be a pleasant place to sleep: cool, dark, and quiet.
• It is important to encourage children to sleep independently.
• Children should avoid exposure to bright light before bedtime and at night. On the contrary, exposure to light is beneficial in the morning.
• Prevent children from eating heavy meals or exercising when bedtime approaches.
• Keep all electronic devices (TV, computers, mobiles, tablets) out of the child’s bedroom and limit their use before going to bed.
• Avoid consuming caffeine and chocolate.
• Try to keep children on a regular daily schedule, including meal times.