Can we Sleep Our Troubles Away?

Friday, March 18, is World Sleep Day. It couldn't come at a better time, what with the Mideast in flames, a gigantic earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown in Japan and the continuing ravaging of the economy by the global financial crisis. Best get some ZZs and try to forget about it all.

World Sleep Day was born to "attempt to raise awareness of the merits of sleeping well for a healthy life." The World Association of Sleep Medicine, which sponsors World Sleep Day, says that sleeplessness is an epidemic that threatens health and life and could affect as many as 45 percent of the global population.

Unfortunately, according to the World Association of Sleep Medicine's website, two of its sleep health pioneers – Prof. Pasquale Montagna and Dr Helmut Schmidt., died in 2010. Dr Montagna was only 60. Dr Schmidt was 71. They were preceded in death by a third, Dr Wayne Henning, who died at only 63.

It is hard to know of what to make of this. Great insomniacs have included former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who is still alive at 86, and Benjamin Franklin, one of the founders of the United States of America, who made it to 84 at a time when lives were far shorter. On the other hand, the novelist Charles Dickens died at 58. Napoleon Bonaparte, whose lack of sleep may have led him to invade far more countries than he could handle, ended up in exile on the island of Elba, where he died at the age of 52.

"It is interesting to note that so many of these famous people, forced to cope with their sleep problems, also suffered from problems of depression and anxiety," says the Powerful Mind Center. "It is very difficult to know whether these moods of depression were the result of their insomnia or whether they were due to other unrelated factors. But it is highly likely they would have accomplished very much more had they been able to enjoy the benefits of comforting sleep every night. The benefits to both mind and body of deep, relaxing, refreshing sleep every night are universally recognized."

"Because sleep health will be advanced by information, the World Association of sleep Medicine will strive to advance knowledge about sleep and its disorders amongst both healthcare workers and the general public," the organization's website states. "This will include both education about the means to "healthy sleep" as well as awareness of the adverse consequences of sleep dysfunction on the quality of life and the health of an individual. To address the concerns of specific areas of the world, WASM will provide a forum for discussion and consideration of issues of relevance to particular regions and cultures"

A dispatch from the Citizen News Service, in advance of World Sleep Day, says that "Insomnia, obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), restless leg syndrome (RLS), and sleep deprivation significantly impact physical, mental and emotional health, in addition to affecting work performance and personal relationships."

Moreover, the agency says, a quarter of the world's children also suffer from sleep disorders, and that lack of quality sleep "can lead to accidental injuries, hyper/hypo activity, obesity, emotional problems (irritability, aggressiveness), impaired memory and/or decreased attention span. Sleep disorders also make it more difficult to control diabetes, hypertension and coronary heart disease."

Children with sleep-disordered breathing, "if not diagnosed and treated early, may develop complications which will impact their future. SDB may result in behavioral changes such as irritability and aggression, changes in intelligence, memory, attention/ concentration, with a decrease in scholastic performance. Early treatment may reverse the deficits. Thus it is imperative that children with SDB should be diagnosed and treated early to avoid permanent damage."

Dr Manvir Bhatia, Senior Consultant, Neurologist and Sleep Specialist at Medanta - the Medicity Hospital, told Citizen News Service that students shouldn't burn the proverbial midnight oil, depriving themselves of sleep, especially during examination time.

"Whatever one learns during the day has to be cemented or stored, and this happens during sleep," Dr Bhatia said. "Thus, if one does not sleep, the memory is not stored and one can suddenly go blank during the exams."

American students in particular appear to have taken Dr Bhatia's advice. In a study by the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research published in August of 2010, while full-time university students in the United States studied an average of about 24 hours a week in 1961, by 2010 their study time had fallen to only about 14 hours. This decline, according to the study, occurred in all demographic groups as well as both with students who work and those who do not.

While America's students may be well-rested, that has concerned the researchers, who say there is a direct correlation between studying and success later in life. It is one more worrying factor in the great decline of the United States, critics believe, while their counterparts in India and China especially grind away at the books for countless hours.

"So safeguard your dream land vehemently from your mundane worldly pursuits and let wakefulness and sleep complement each other as God intended it to be. That would be the real awakening," CNS says. Or as Frank Sinatra sang, "wrap your troubles in dreams/and dream your troubles away."

Indeed. Max Norris, a US newspaperman and incurable insomniac who died recently at the age of 84, had these words chiseled onto his tombstone: "At last—a cure for insomnia."