Sleep is essential to the body just as food and water are for good living, said Ogunjimi Oluwamayowa, a clinical sleep educator and founder of Better Sleep Better Health Initiative.
In this interview with PREMIUM TIMES, he explains why more attention should be paid to sleep health, how a stress-free life can be lived, and how the Nigerian-reality can be beaten to live a healthy lifestyle.
PT: Often less discussed, what should we know about sleep health?
Oluwamayowa: Sleep health is the quantity and quality of repose or bedtime an individual can attain and its impact on the person’s overall wellbeing. Although not well promoted especially in this part of the world, sleep health remains one of the four key pillars of health. Just as food is important to the body and water is essential to our daily living, sleep health is crucial to our very existence as humans.
The importance of sleep resonates across every single system of the body, from the cardiovascular system to the reproductive system. But it is sad that people fail to pay attention to their sleep health. In fact, many Nigerians believe that when you sleep too much, you are inviting poverty and so fail to get the amount of sleep their body needs. They even go as far as preventing their children from attaining healthy sleep unknown to them that sleep impacts their brain development.
Sleep is a vital element of our body’s mechanisms and cannot be replaced with anything else as a lot of things occur in the body during sleep. During sleep, the body undergoes repair and restores cells and tissues that were destroyed or damaged while awake, as well as recuperate from the stress and events that are placed on our bodies during the day. Sleep also plays important roles in memory consolidation, boost of immune system, regulation of blood pressure, blood sugar and skin replenishment.
So regardless of how well you feed, how much exercise or yoga you practice, not getting the amount of sleep your body needs will surely lead to devastating health condition. Lack of attention to individual sleep health is why we have a lot of people with sleep problems today even though many of the cases are undiagnosed. Attaining the right quantity and quality of sleep makes all the difference in living healthy.
PT: When we talk about sleep disorder, how bad is it?
Oluwamayowa: How bad a sleep disorder is depends on the type of sleep disorder it is and how often one is unable to achieve the right quantity and quality of sleep needed. Once in a while, most people experience sleeping problems due to mental or physical stress, hectic schedules, or for some other reasons and this is quite normal. But, when sleep issues start to occur on a regular basis and interfere with one’s day-to-day activities, it may indicate a sleep disorder.
There are over 83 sleep disorders, according to the classification by the international classification of sleep disorders. So, depending on the type of sleep disorder, people may have a difficult time falling asleep and may feel extremely tired throughout the day. Sleep disorder can impact energy, mood, concentration, and overall health negatively. It can also impede productivity at work, cause strain in relationships, and impair performance in daily activities.
Also, when sleep issues are left undiagnosed or untreated, the negative effects can lead to further health consequences or death.
PT: What are the causes and likely symptoms of sleep disorder?
Oluwamayowa: Sleep disorder can be caused by different things. These include stress and anxiety which are primary causes of sleep problems, especially in insomniacs, underlying health problems such as arthritis, lower back pain and fibromyalgia, can also cause sleep issues, obesity or bulky neck linked with frequent snoring can lead to sleep-disordered breathing conditions, abnormal anatomical structures of the body such as enlarged tonsils, deformed oral cavity among others can cause sleep problems. Other causes includes Allergies, poor sleep hygiene, respiratory infections, old age, sleep deprivation, medication, family history.
Symptoms of sleep disorder vary based on the type of sleep disorder but the general symptoms of sleep disorders include: difficulty initiating or maintaining sleep for long, feeling tired upon waking from sleep, daytime fatigue, feeling sleepy excessively during the day, abnormal breathing during sleep, abnormal movements during sleep, abnormal behaviours during sleep, unintentional changes to your sleep or wake schedule, irritability or anxiety, impaired performance at work or school, lack of concentration, depression, weight gain.
PT: How can sleep disorder be treated or checked?
Oluwamayowa: To effectively address sleep disorders, visitation to the doctor or sleep clinician is required to ensure proper diagnosis. Although diagnostic and treatment support are not largely available, there are still a number of sleep centres where sleep diagnosis can be done.
Diagnosis includes physical examination, information about your symptoms and medical history, questionnaire assessments and or overnight sleep polysomnography. These diagnostic and questionnaire assessments are very crucial in determining the right treatment plan for the sleep disorder to be addressed.
Treatment of sleep disorders depends on the cause and severity of the condition to be addressed. These treatment options might include: sleep therapy, positional therapy, surgery, oral appliance, medications or lifestyle changes.
PT: What do we need to do as a people to make this discussion part of our lives?
Oluwamayowa: To make this discussion a part of our lives, (there must be a) fundamental understanding that there is no escape route from poor health if we do not pay adequate attention to our sleep health. Also, we need to address sleep health illiteracy. A lot of people are suffering from sleep disorder conditions while many have died of sleep conditions such as obstructive sleep apnea because of lack of knowledge.
As a people, we need to be conscious of our sleep health and also see the need to sought professional sleep health information and make effort to practice proper sleep hygiene. Besides that, concerned health professionals also have a major role to play in making this discussion part of our lives. They should make sleep information and recommendation readily available and assessible to their patients and also consider sleep health as a defining factor when clerking or diagnosing ill patients.
PT: In busy places like Lagos for instance where traffic snarls are common, can people still live stress-free life?
Oluwamayowa: The fact that everyone experiences stress which is even more pronounced in this part of the world is incontestable. Nonetheless, being able to live a stress-free life is a function of how well you can manage stress. With stress being a primary threat to a good sleep, there are tips one can follow to manage stress and prevent it from impacting ones overall sleep health.
These tips include keeping a positive attitude, learning to avoid things or engagements that will stress you out unnecessarily, accepting that there are events that you cannot control, asserting your feelings, opinions, or beliefs instead of becoming angry, defensive, or passive, exercise regularly and spend time with those you enjoy been with, practice relaxation training.
PT: Although not proven, it is believed that Nigerians are generally happy people. Do you think anxiety is something of note to us?
Oluwamayowa: Yes, it is something to note especially in a country as this. Anxiety directly affects two of the four pillars of health that is mental health and sleep health. In the life of an average Nigerian, events such as traffic jam, jumping buses, challenges of bad roads, poor electricity supply, inflation, unemployment, financial instability, fast-approaching loan payday are very common even on a daily basis.
Even though many Nigerians still make efforts to wear smiles and look happy, these events they frequently encounter are more than enough to excessively trigger anxiety which is why many Nigerians are said to experience sleep issues but battle them silently.
PT: Perhaps now less, the anxiety that trails coronavirus pandemic is not over. How can we subdue it?
Oluwamayowa: With the daily increase in the number of confirmed cases of people tested positive for the coronavirus, the stress and anxiety levels of many Nigerians are probably on the rise. Some of us may even have experienced COVID-19-like symptoms such as headaches, feeling feverish, chest tightness, body pains, fatigue and may be worried that we have contracted the virus whereas nothing is wrong with us — just symptoms precipitated by anxiety.
We may also be worried about other issues, the health of our family members especially children, our finances, jobs and the long term consequences of this situation on our world. To cope with anxiety in this pandemic, there are things I would recommend:
First, focus daily on what you can control, and do not worry yourself about what you cannot. Worrying will not change a thing.
Second, limit the amount of time spent following the COVID-19 news. It can contribute to anxiety.
Third, actively look for and share positive stories about COVID-19. These could be stories of recovery, stories of bravery, or people helping others to keep motivation and reduce anxiousness.
Fourth, having a daily routine and following it can help to keep our minds off the pandemic situation and acts as a source of distraction. Also, take a walk, even if it is within your compound.
Ensure you exercise daily; it relieves anxiety. Connect and bond with your immediate family members and friends. Meditate.
If you try out these tips and still feel extremely anxious and overwhelmed, reach out to a mental health professional. If you were struggling with anxiety before this pandemic you may also need to speak with a mental health professional.