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Sleep and emotional well-being

Musa, a 15-year-old final-year secondary school student was preparing for his university entrance examinations and was worried sick that he may not do as well as he should. There is still so much material to study and revise, he reflected.

Abdul, his friend suggested buying some herbal roots from the mallams who hawk various herbal concoctions on the streets. Musa decided to try them. He bought a pack of roots and chewed them. He was pleasantly surprised that he was not feeling sleepy even after nightfall. He studied all through the night and felt good.

The examinations were still 72 hours away and he was now confident that if he repeated this exercise over the next three days, he will be better prepared to face the exams. But by midday, he had started feeling funny. By nightfall, he was having a terrible headache and was no longer assimilating anything and was restless.

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He decided to try and sleep for a few hours and went to lie down but sleep was elusive. Try as he might, he remained uncomfortably alert till daybreak…. tossing and turning in bed. By Day 3 after he took the herbal roots, he was a walking mess. He could neither study nor sleep, and he had a blinding headache.

He went to the school clinic in tears, and was sedated. He then slept blissfully until the following morning (of the exams). He had wasted 48 hours of no study at all, but he had learnt his lessons the hard way.

 

Commentary

Sleep is an essential component of successful living. It is no coincidence that we sleep for roughly a third of our lives. Thus, if you are 30 years old now, you have slept for 10 years of your life. And if you are 60 years old, 20 of those years have been spent sleeping.

Indeed, research has shown that people who sleep for an average of eight or more hours per day enjoy more longevity than those who sleep for seven hours or less. However, difficulties with sleep are the commonest complaints of patients who present to any hospital. Considering the vital importance of sleep, and how common sleep problems are, it is pertinent to talk about it and how to improve sleep habits.

 

Benefits of good sleep

Imagine your brain is like a computer/laptop. Recall what is likely to happen when you leave it on for several days and have about 10 to 20 windows open at all times. It will simply freeze or hang, and stop responding to all signals or buttons that you press. In such instances, you may need to do a reset, by forcing it to shut down and restart before it works again. Thus, from this analogy, our brain also needs its shutdown time, via good sleep.

The numerous benefits include brain functions such as repairing damaged nerves, improving our attention and concentration, boosting memory and our creative thinking. It also helps to improve our critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

Other benefits include boosting our immune system, helps to improve glucose control (poor sleep habits increase risk of developing diabetes), helps with blood pressure control and improves wound healing.

Poor sleep habits on the other hand increases the risk of weight gain and obesity, increases the risk of heart disease and stroke, and may be associated with poor emotional well-being, including irritability, anxiety and depression. It also causes poor attention and concentration and impaired memory.

 

How can we improve our sleep?

The healthy habits that improve sleep are described as sleep hygiene. These include maintaining regular sleep routines – go to bed at about the same time every day, and wake up around a fixed schedule. Our body is a creature of habit and once we establish it, autopilot takes over.

Avoid taking too many naps during the daytime and cut down on caffeine (coke, energy drinks, coffee, lipton tea, etc) after lunch…otherwise they will not allow you sleep well at night. Preferably ensure you don’t have a television in your bedroom, keep your bedroom strictly for resting and sleeping.

Ensure your bedroom is dark and not brightly lit (brightness impairs sleep for most of us). Exercise regularly, even if it is a walk within your compound. Exercise causes the muscles to be tired and relaxed, which in turn induces sleep.

Then have a night-time routine that is regular. Say by 10 pm, you take a shower, then change into night-wear, turn off the lights and retire to your bedroom (where there is no tv or you switch it off); and lastly, ensure all gadgets are on silent mode and put away in a drawer, where you cant see the light come on, when a message drops (except you are an emergency worker, such as a doctor on call).

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