Sleep is life’s incredible gift to us. It sits at the axis of the trinity of mental and physical health, diet and exercise. Here’s a brief glimpse into the fascinating world of sleep and the potential it holds for uplifting human health.
A King’s Privilege
Sleep. The word conjures up myriad tales in our imagination. Kumbhkarna, Rip Van Winkle, Sleeping Beauty, to just name a few. However, not many people know of the legend of King Muchukunda, an ancestor of Lord Rama.
Once in a battle with the Asuras (Demons), the Devas (Divines) were overwhelmed and pleaded King Muchukunda to help. The King fought valiantly for them and defeated the Asuras. After the war, Indra, the leader of Devas, came to King Muchukunda and told him that in heaven one day was equal to a thousand years on Earth.
Since the King had been fighting for an entire year, a very long time had passed on Earth and his family, friends, and kingdom, were all long dead and gone. The news saddened the king. Seeing the distraught king, Indra offered to grant anything that he desired, apart from the long-gone family and moksha (the knowledge of ultimate freedom).
The great King, overcome with grief and tiredness, finally said, “I am tired. If I can’t get my family back or moksha, then grant me undisturbed sleep. And if anyone dares interrupt it, may he be burnt to ashes.” And so, the king returned to Earth and slept in a cave for eons.
King Muchukund’s wish for eternal slumber elucidates how much importance the ancients placed on sleep. It ranked among family, and even moksha. And rightly so.
What is Sleep
Sleep is an important part of being alive. It’s been around since the beginning of time and almost every living being experiences it. Yet, it is hard to zero down on a single definition.
Throughout history, sleep has been looked at both literally as well as spiritually. Medical sciences define it as the body’s rest cycle. Psychology recognises it as a circadian state characterised by partial or total suspension of consciousness, voluntary muscle inhibition and relative insensitivity to stimulation. And some scriptures look at it metaphorically as death or ignorance.
The Magnum Opus Named Sleep
There are broadly two stages of Sleep: NREM (Non-Rapid Eye Movement) & REM (Rapid Eye Movement). As we go to sleep, a lot of incredible things start to happen:
As we gradually slip into deeper NREM Sleep, the brain experiences occasional slow brain waves. Think of them as the moving of information packets of recent experiences stored at fragile, short-term memory sites to permanent long-term memory locations. Literally transferring, distilling, and forming memories.
Dream Time or REM Sleep is more like wakefulness than NREM Sleep. In fact, brain activity during REM Sleep closely resembles when we are awake. The difference is that the Thalamus (a part at the center of our brains) which relays signals from our sense organs like eyes, ears etc., stops the signals from reaching the Cerebral Cortex (the higher brain) for processing. Instead, it relays emotions, motivations and memories and we enter the fantastic world of dreams.
In his book Why We Sleep, Matthew Walker explains that dreams have a significant role in information processing by aiding learning, creating memories, connecting the dots, problem-solving, creativity etc. that help us make sense of things and shape our larger world views.
The Importance of Sleep for Our Well-Being
Good quality and appropriate duration of Sleep has far-reaching benefits for human beings.
Good Heart Health
A study conducted by Harvard University’s School of Public Health found that cutting down on sleep hours may lead to developing cardiac problems. Therefore, there is reason to believe that adequate and good quality sleep can be helpful in reducing chances of developing issues like heart attack or high blood pressure.
Good Mental Health
Sleep, especially REM Sleep, facilitates brains’ processing of emotional information and thereby better mental health. Insufficient sleep or lack of it can influence mood and emotional reactivity and is tied to mental health disorders and their severity including the risk of suicidal ideas and behaviours. In fact, experts have seen a bidirectional relationship between Sleep and mental health. Some studies even suggest that normalised Sleep and its restorative processes may be essential for a positive clinical outcome in Schizophrenia.
Muscle Repair & Recovery
During sleep, bodily processes like protein synthesis and release of certain human growth hormones helps in the repair and recovery of muscles. Thus, helping it get rest and ready to function optimally the next day.
Stronger Immune System
Adequate and good quality sleep is also useful in providing rest to immune cells and proteins that need to stay in fighting form against viruses and infections. Experts at American Academy of Sleep Medicine have observed that after vaccination well-rested individuals develop a better antibody response than those who are sleep deprived.
Higher Pain Threshold
A 2012 study exhibited that people who get good quality and longer sleep had 25% higher pain tolerance than those who had less. This means that an undisturbed and long night’s sleep may be the best painkiller.
Higher State of Alertness
A good night’s sleep is extremely important for staying alert and awake. According to a study by AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, the likelihood of a person (deprived of even 3-4 hours of Sleep) getting involved in a crash is equal to that of a person with blood alcohol level slightly over the legal limit of 0.08 in the US. In other words, driving while in a Sleep-deprived state is like driving very, very drunk!
The Social & Economic Impact of Sleep Deprivation
Today, most of the world is sleep deprived. According to a study done by Gallup, an analytics company, people in the US were Sleeping almost 8 hours a night in 1942 versus only 6.8 hours a night in 2013.India is also among the top 5 least Sleeping nations of the world. Adequate Sleep is increasingly becoming an unattainable luxury. Round-the-clock economies, socialising, entertainment, and work culture along with increased digital screen time is cutting into Sleeping time for most of us.
According to RAND corporation, a research organisation, up to 3% of the GDP is lost to sleep deprivation among the OECD countries. The same study also found that people who sleep fewer than six hours a night on an average have 13% higher mortality risk than people who sleep at least seven hours.
Sleep deprivation is taking a toll on the world’s population and gnawing away at global health. It is therefore imperative to act and improve the way the world sleeps.
An Opportunity To Unlock Better to Human Health
The Sleep Deprivation Pandemic presents a great opportunity for organisations and brands to make a far-reaching impact on human lives and health.
Recognition of Sleep as a Human Right
Every living being lives, breathes, and sleeps. It is an essential condition for living and therefore must be acknowledged as a fundamental right by international law and be applicable to all human and social entities.
The Japanese practice of ‘Inemuri’ meaning ‘being present while asleep’ is a great example. While it may be ancient in its origins, ‘Inemuri’ caught on during Japan’s post war economic boom. The entire nation was busy working non-stop. The result: Sleeping time was compromised. Therefore, to compensate, taking a short nap at work became perfectly acceptable.
Over decades this has become a socially accepted phenomenon. The Japanese Health Ministry even recommends that all working-age people take a 30-minute early afternoon nap.
Government Drive To Create Sleep Amenities
Part of recognition as a fundamental right will be the provision for practicing the right. Just like lavatories are considered public amenities and provided for by Governments at public spaces, accessible and clean sleeping spaces must be created that may be used by the sleep deprived population. Of course, a robust security ecosystem needed to be created around the amenities to prevent misuse of the spaces.
Another important intervention needed is the provision for Sleeping spaces for the homeless. Modeled on night shelters that operate in some countries, every nation must provide for accessible Sleeping spaces for the homeless and the lesser privileged, especially during erratic weather conditions. This can eventually help reduced the poverty burden of open-air sleeping and deaths caused thereby.
Acceptance of Sleep by Organisations
Corporate entities must endorse sleeping as a basic need like food, water & air and provide space and opportunity for short naps for every employee. Recognition and tolerance of sleep as part of work life can help boost morale & loyalty, build more empathetic workplaces and combat workplaces psychological risks.
Tolerance and providing for of workplace Sleeping has the potential for greatly enhancing productivity, increasing efficiency, and fostering human-first work cultures.
Quality Sleep Product & Services
And lastly, the role of brands in creating a ‘Sleep Culture’ is crucial. Already some health and wellness companies are providing Sleep aids, nutrition, music and even sleep consulting. Sleep clinics and sleep foods are gaining popularity in many countries. However, the real tipping point will occur only when brands look at Sleep not just as a market, but an opportunity to add value to the customer’s life and health.
Sleep has multitude of desirable benefits in several domains like beauty, skin, muscle recovery, better performance, and mental well-being along with health preservation. This has the potential to perfectly fit into many consumer products and services.
For example, in interest of its customer’s health, a cellphone can promote nano-naps as screen-downtimes. This will help positively reinforce the brand’s image as well as ensure a healthier, long living customer and therefore a longer lasting lifetime value for the company.
Sleep: A Gift Should We Choose To Respect It
The knowledge that adequate and good quality sleep can help improve health drastically and keep numerous ailments and conditions at bay is nothing short of remarkable. It is important to take this perspective and create widespread awareness along with establishing a sleep ecosystem which facilitates quality of sleep for one and for all.
Nurturing a global sleep culture will not just benefit human beings and their health but also help governments and brands add more value to the society and the planet through better human health.
to News Alerts