World Sleep Day 19th March 2021

  • 18/03/2021

Background & passion on the topic of sleep

Over the past 20 years, I would be considered to have had a relatively busy life (as per most Hong Kong-based adults). This included me being a business executive, a loving husband and a father of twins (now 20 years old). For at least half that time I was engaged in postgraduate study, I maintained an active lifestyle, including the hobby of teaching group fitness. I was one of those people who believed that sleep was a waste of time, and I certainly pushed the limits of not sleeping – my record was 3 consecutive nights without a minute of sleep. This lack of appreciation for sleep ultimately led me to experience multiple periods of burnout. Approximately two and a half years ago, I woke one morning (after a good night’s sleep) and decided that I wanted to change my life and become the best version of myself. Shortly after, I joined the Maggie & Rose family! I started to read in depth about the science behind wellness and lifestyle choices (lifestyle medicine). One book led me to another. I soon started to form an opinion, believing that sleep was the centre of health and an essential factor in one being their best-self. My passion for wellness and sleep continues to drive me. This has empowered me to transition from being a poor sleeper into having almost absolute control over my sleep – to the extreme of not once needing to set an alarm to wake during the past years. I have become the go-to person for wellness, influencing those around me in how they approach eating, exercise and sleep, recommending literature and providing strategies for change. I currently research sleep and health sciences as part of my doctoral studies.

 

How a lack of good sleep impacts a person physically & mentally

Human beings are the only species that intentionally deprive themselves of sleep. Scientific research has uncovered that adults require approximately eight hours of sleep in order to cognitively function, any lesser amount of sleep affects our abilities to remain alert and retain information. According to Dr Satchin Panda (in his book ‘The Circadian Code’), poor or insufficient sleep leads to detrimental behavioural and biological effects on an individual, including low growth hormone, lack of attention, sleepiness, mind fog, reduction of damaged cell repair, indigestion, high blood glucose and reduction of fat burning. However, the impact of sleep on health goes beyond the short-term. New science-based sleep research has established a link between poor sleep and many lifestyle, mental health (e.g. depression and anxiety) and chronic diseases. It has been reported by the Institute of Lifestyle Medicine that 85% of chronic diseases are a result of poor lifestyle decisions. The importance of sleep cannot go unacknowledged, as it influences ones’ lifestyle choices, mood and subsequent interactions with others. In essence, by sleeping well you are able to live each and every woken moment with absolute vigor and vitality. Sleep simply makes you a healthier and happier parent, partner and child.

 

Children and sleep

During our lifespan the ideal amount of sleep required per night changes as we progress through the stages of life. In his book Circadian Code, Dr Panda highlights the ideal number of hours of sleep for school-aged children (6-13 years) as 9-11 hours, teenagers (14-17 years) as 8-10 hours and adults (18-64 years) as 7-9 hours. For children and adults alike, it is important to establish good sleep hygiene practices. According to the Sleep Foundation, sleep hygiene is a variety of different practices and habits that are necessary to have good nighttime sleep quality and full daytime alertness. A few example practices for healthy sleep taken from ‘Why We Sleep’ (Matthew Walker), include:

  • Stick to a regular timing and pattern of sleep
  • Exercise but avoid doing this too late in the day
  • Avoid caffeine in the afternoons
  • Maintain a dark, cool, gadget-free bedroom
  • Avoid large meals and beverages (certainly alcohol) late at night
  • Relax before bed

Teens often (due to evolutionary and societal reasons) stay up later than their parents in order to both study and interact with their peers. Unfortunately, teens are reported to be very sensitive to light. Bright lights at night may lead to a reduction in the release of melatonin (the sleep hormone) affecting the quality of sleep of the teens. Parents can assist by (a) preparing an early dinner (3-4 hours before sleep) to allow an empty stomach before bedtime and (b) provide education to their children in regards to the importance of darkness and sleep in addition to creating a sleep-friendly environment for the teens, equipped with a spotlight or lamp that does not illuminate their eyes. The addition of activating the nighttime light setting on any electronic screens being used and the wearing of light-blocking eyewear will exponentially help.

As per any intention to change elements of one’s lifestyle, the support of your family and community around you may determine the success or failure of your efforts. An entire family discussing tweaks to daily routines, changing light settings, making adjustments to eating patterns and blacking out light in bedrooms, etc., will no doubt pay dividends.

Although I have successfully triumphed in my own personal sleep battle. I did so in my 40’s. I believe that if today’s sleep science knowledge was available back when I was a child and if I had informed parents who took action, then I would have been a healthier and happier child, partner and parent in the earlier decades of my life. My theory is currently being tested via my twin boys… watch this space!

Sleep well!

Kenneth Wathall

Maggie & Rose Hong Kong Management Team