Today, March 15th, marks the day for highlighting World Sleep. As a sleep consultant, I’m always passionate about sharing the many benefits of sleep with everyone. However, as today is an important day for sleep I would like to shine a spotlight on sleep health. I firmly believe that sleep health is often overlooked, despite its vital role in overall well-being. For many years, I have noticed that a large number of people prioritise other health factors such as diet and exercise over sleep, which is why I want you to understand the profound impact sleep has on our health.

Is Sleep Health Being Overlooked?

Research findings demonstrate that there is indeed a widespread decline in sleep duration across all age groups1. Similarly to exercise and nutrition, sleep is an essential pillar of health. It impacts all aspects of human function, optimising our physical and mental health. The European Academy of Neurology and World Health Organisation (WHO) have recognised sleep as a determinant of brain health, and the American Heart Association recently added sleep duration as one of Life’s Essential Eight factors for optimal cardiovascular health2.

Why Is Sleep Important for Adults?

Sleep is a biological necessity and is essential to health. It plays a vital role in numerous functions, including consolidating memories, secreting hormones, and regulating metabolic processes. After surpassing 16 consecutive hours of wakefulness, research shows that our cognitive function and sustained attention start to diminish3.

Ensuring a good night’s sleep involves several key factors. First off, maintaining good sleep quality and hygiene is crucial. This could involve creating a comfortable sleep environment and establishing bedtime routines that promote relaxation. Additionally, getting enough sleep is essential. While individual needs may differ, experts at the National Sleep Foundation recommend that adults aim for at least 7 hours of sleep per night to support health, emphasising the importance of sufficient sleep for overall well-being.

Why Is Sleep Important for Infants?

It’s important to establish that struggling with your baby’s sleep is not uncommon, and seeking help is nothing to be embarrassed about. Just like adults, there’s a recommended sleep duration (which changes throughout development) that is optimal for your baby’s health. Ensuring good sleep quality for your baby can improve behaviour, learning, memory, attention and emotional regulation. Children are particularly vulnerable to sleep deficiency that leads to behavioural problems early in life, and has been associated with sleep deficiency into adulthood4. To enhance your baby’s sleep health, there are a few key factors that that research suggests can help. This includes establishing a consistent/regular sleep schedule, a bedtime routine, and steering clear of technology within the hour before bedtime. Additionally, parent–child interactions prior to bedtime and at sleep onset can impact sleep duration, consolidation, and quality5.

So, let’s use today as a reminder to prioritise our sleep health and make the most of the countless benefits it offers. By advocating for better sleep habits in our families and communities, we can collectively improve our overall health. Let’s not only commit to improving our own sleep habits but also to fostering a culture that respects and prioritises sleep for everyone.

  1. Ford E.S., Cunningham T.J., Croft, J. B., 2015. Trends in self-reported sleep duration among US adults from 1985 to 2012. Sleep, 38 (5), 829–832. ↩︎
  2. Lim, D. C., Najafi, A., Afifi, L., Bassetti, C., Buysse, D. J., Han, F., Högl, B., Melaku, Y. A., Morin, C. M., Pack, A. I., Poyares, D., Somers, V. K., Eastwood, P. R., Zee, P. C., Jackson, C. L., 2023. World Sleep Society Global Sleep Health Taskforce. The need to promote sleep health in public health agendas across the globe. Lancet Public Health, 8 (10), e820-e826. ↩︎
  3. Basner, M. and Dinges, D. F., 2011. Maximizing sensitivity of the psychomotor vigilance test (PVT) to sleep loss. Sleep, 34 (5), 581-91. ↩︎
  4. Melaku, Y. A., Appleton, S., Reynolds, A. C., Sweetman, A. M., Stevens, D. J., Lack, L., Adams, R., 2019. Association Between Childhood Behavioral Problems and Insomnia Symptoms in Adulthood. JAMA Network Open, 2 (9), e1910861. ↩︎
  5. Meltzer, L. J., Williamson, A. A., Mindell, J. A., 2021. Pediatric sleep health: It matters, and so does how we define it. Sleep Medicine Reviews, 57, 101425. ↩︎