It was "World Sleep Day" on 20 Mar 2009.
Just to get it right, "World Sleep Day" (WSD) is not a day the world spends the day in bed snoozing. Rather, it is an international event intended to raise awareness on important issues relating to sleep, including medicine, education, social aspects and driving.
The first WSD was launched on March 14th 2008 sponsored by the World Association of Sleep Medicine (WASM), whose fundamental mission is to advance sleep health worldwide. Together with the other healthcare professionals active in the field of sleep medicine, they thought that it is reasonable to set aside one day of the year to celebrate sleep and raise awareness of its disorders.
We all sleep. In fact, all mammals sleep and almost all vertebrates sleep.
Sleep is a privilege and we all should have the right to sleep well. It is a pleasurable physiological activity that is energizing. When we fail to sleep enough or do so in excess, our bodies will start to protest.
There are about 80 known sleep-related disorders. One third of adults suffer from insomnia and many have sleep apnea. Some end up with excessive or overuse of sleeping pills. The good news is that disorders of sleepiness and sleeplessness are preventable and treatable medical conditions. Much can be done to prevent and treat the disorders but it is important to take the first step by creating public awareness.
Many of the sufferers of sleep disorders are not aware that they have a medical condition that is treatable. They assume that it is the way things have always been and instead, they blame their tiredness to long working hours and stress.
Sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder generally characterised by snoring leading to stoppage of breathing. Patients often gasp for air while asleep and the level of blood oxygen can descent to a dangerously low level. Many people who suffer from this disorder went undiagnosed and not knowing that it can lead to hypertension, heart disease, strokes and diabetes.
I chanced upon an article on didgeridoo recently. Didgeridoo is a wind instrument from the northern Australia, originally used by the Aboriginal people. A 2005 study in the British Medical Journal found that learning and practising the didgeridoo helped reduce sleep apnea. Apparently, it worked by strengthening muscles in the upper airways, thus reducing their tendency to collapse during sleep. Those who tried claimed that they reaped benefits from using it after 4 months.
Although relatively less known, "Restless Legs Syndrome" (RLS) is another common sleep disorder. RLS is characterised by an uncontrollable urge to move the legs, usually accompanied or caused by uncomfortable and often painful sensations in the legs. These symptoms are worse at rest and during the evening or night. This results in people with RLS finding it difficult to fall asleep and to stay asleep or to sit still or relax About one in ten adults is affected by it and one-third of them experience the symptoms at least twice every week.
This year's slogan for WSD is "Drive alert, arrive safe".
A person who is severely sleep-deprived does not think properly and is at risk of many kinds of accidents. This has been the cause for many motor vehicle accidents.
Sleep deprivation does not just cause problems behind the wheels.
Sleep experts believe that teenagers need more sleep than adults however many are not getting enough. Some think that teenagers are physiologically wired to stay up till wee hours and wake up late. This general sleep pattern gets in the way of their education as many are not sufficiently recharged during lessons.
Experts say delaying classes for teens until later in the day helps them learn better. In UK, some schools are beginning to accept that theory. Hugh Christie school in Kent county is one such schools where classes run from 11am until 5pm.
I would love to see the same being considered in Singapore. I do not think that our teenagers are any different from those in the west. Most of them stay up late during school days and rest days. It is arguable whether they end up chatting on the Internet because they cannot get down to sleep or whether they hang on to the computer games at the expense of their rest hours. All I can say is that, they just do not go to sleep early and wake up fresh for school.
It is about time the Ministry of Education embrace the World Sleep Day for the sake of our school kids.