World Sleep Day: Expert reveals the benefits of mindful sleep and how to achieve it

World Sleep Day is celebrated on March 17 every year. While sleep is essential to a person’s health, millions of people in India alone do not get enough sleep. The reasons can vary from stress to social life. Kantar’s ZzzQuil India National Sleep Survey in collaboration with P&G shows that on average only 15 percent of Indians sleep well at night, with nearly 60 percent of Indians experiencing occasional insomnia.

We speak to dr. Yong Chiat Wong, Group Head Scientist, Medical & Technical Affairs at P&G Health to discuss the effects of sleep deprivation, its correlation with immunity and emerging trends.

What is the importance of sleep?

Sleep has three main functions. The first is consolidation. During sleep, the brain puts a lot of effort into learning, developing, and transferring short-term memory to long-term memory. Secondly, it is also important for growth and repair like the release of growth hormone, that is why a baby sleeps a lot. The third important factor in sleep is that it helps us rejuvenate and relax.

How does lack of sleep affect humans, physically and mentally?

When you are sleep deprived or only sleep for short periods, you can become easily irritable and have a short attention span to make decisions. There’s a study that says people who sleep less than seven hours are three times more likely to get a cold compared to those who sleep more than eight hours. In the long term, lack of sleep has also been associated with an increased risk of cancer, obesity, cardiovascular mortality and diabetes.

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What is more important, quantity sleep or quality sleep?

I would say that both aspects are important. Three elements are important for a healthy sleep. The first is duration. The second is continuity. And the third is depth.

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How are sleep and immunity related?

Sleep helps our body to balance and restore our immunity. The sleep cycle communicates closely with the immune system. At night, while you sleep, your immune system releases cytokines, which are very important, fight infections and have protective functions. So if you sleep less, fewer cytokines are produced and you are more susceptible to infections.

What is the minimum sleep hour requirement in relation to age?

Sleep is one of the most important factors in the release of growth hormone. Newborns and toddlers usually sleep up to 17 hours a day. One to five year olds stick to 14 hours of sleep, while six year olds to teens need around 10 hours of sleep. Young adults typically need seven to nine hours of sleep and older adults seven to eight hours. So I will say that at least seven hours of sleep is required.

What advice would you give to today’s generation to maintain their sleep balance?

Over millions of years of evolution, the human body was designed to rest and recover after sunset. However, according to modern societal norms, our lifestyle and the technologies we use today counteract this natural process. At night, people turn on lights, TVs, gadgets, on-demand entertainment, and are always on social media. So all of this works against our natural sleep cycle.

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What is important to us is the need to have a regular sleep schedule. We should lead a healthy lifestyle with physical activities and avoid using devices at night. We should sleep in dark and quiet rooms to get a good night’s sleep.

What is the concept of delayed sleep or revenge sleep?

Many people hesitate and sleep late. This is in response to the stress or lack of personal free time during the day. So they try to relax at night, binge-watch, or use social media. However, these activities can further affect our sleep cycle. Studies show that with just two hours of screen time, our bodies can suppress up to 40 percent of melatonin secretion.

Melatonin is a very important bodily substance that helps us fall asleep. So when melatonin production is suppressed at night, falling asleep becomes even more difficult.

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What are the post-pandemic sleep trends?

There was a 2021 study by Felix. It said that two in three participants reported sleeping well during the pandemic, and more than a third reported difficulty falling asleep. In 2020, 74 percent reported using a cell phone in bed, and a year later, in 2021, the number rose to 84 percent.

The most common reason for stress is poor sleep. So after the pandemic and working from home, people also had to work overtime, which added to the stress.

Are there any technologies or gadgets we can use to ensure sleep?

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If I have to recommend it, I might invest in something like sleep ambient lights or soothing music.