Health News Thu, 1 Aug 2013

Sleep well – your health depends on it

“People say, 'I'm going to sleep now,' as if it were nothing. But it's really a bizarre activity. 'For the next several hours, while the sun is gone, I'm going to become unconscious, temporarily losing command over everything I know and understand. When the sun returns, I will resume my life.' – George Carlin, Brain Droppings.

Over the past few days I have heard a lot about sleep; in the clinic, on radio and even on television. When an issue starts bumping into you at each turn then it is likely many people are “losing sleep” over it and it is probably a public health hazard.

Well you certainly will not spend about one-third of your life sleeping if it were not vital for your wellbeing. Sleep is essential for ensuring physical and mental health as well as re-energising the body but it is no secret that many of us struggle to get sleep in the adequate quantity and quality. Lack of adequate sleep has even been linked to Strokes and Obesity. Sleep ranks very high in all heart-health programmes.

Many of us who complain of poor sleep do not necessarily have a sleep disorder but pack our day so tightly we end up sending our thoughts and work into the bedroom. Maybe this tip from Dr Mfodwo’s (consultant psychiatrist) professor should be taken seriously – “the bed is only for sleep and sex” so if you do not plan on any of the two then you have no business being in bed. Train your body to know that once you lie down on your bed it is time to sleep. To get adequate sleep something must give. Plan on spending less time working, watching TV, playing on the computer, chatting on the phone or dancing and reap the benefits of blissful sleep.

If you want to maintain your great sleep or improve on your sleep instead of reaching out for sleep pills try these steps;

1. Aim for quality sleep most nights

a. Determine your sleep number and aim for it. There is nothing magical about this number but instead of assuming you need about eight hours of sleep a day like most people; go to bed and wake up refreshed without an alarm in the morning. Note the number of hours you slept. Now adjust the time you go to bed such that you can wake up in the morning without disrupting your day. I hope this clarifies the point that adequate sleep duration varies from one person to the other.

b. Follow a sleep schedule by going to bed at the same time at night and waking up at the same time. Follow the same schedule over weekends or on days when you do not have to work. Avoid pushing all your sleep to Saturdays to repay your “sleep debt”.


2. Set a bedtime routine

a. Calm your mind as bedtime draws near; turn off devices such as the TV and computer and avoid most radio programmes except listening to soothing music. Think about pleasureable events (may not always be easy), read a relaxing book preferably the Bible.

b. Create a quiet, dark and cool sleeping environment. Cool can be elusive and sometimes frustrating when through powers that be you are unable to power your air conditioner or fan.

c. Limit strenuous pre-bedtime activity. The only exception here is sexual intercourse since intimacy helps promote sleep. You could take a walk about 4 – 6 hours before your sleep time or engage in an exercise programme early in the day.

d. Thou shall not convert naps into major sleep sessions. Limit naps to 10 to 30 minutes a day and as much as possible you should not nap close to your bedtime.

3. Beware of what goes into your mouth

a. The tongue not only holds the key to life and death, it has the power to keep you awake all night. Try going to bed hungry and your stomach will give you no rest. The reverse also holds true; a full stomach or a meal loaded with spices and oil may keep you awake.

b. Caffeine- in coffee, tea and other products taken in the evening or even late afternoon may keep you awake by blocking sleep-inducing chemicals in the brain. Though alcohol will induce sleep, it interferes with deep sleep and may make you wake up early. Make sure you do not take alcohol at least three clear hours before sleep or even avoid alcohol after work.

c. Sleeping pills may in the long run especially if not under supervision lead to major sleep challenges. Other medication may also impact on your sleep. Seek help.

4. Get professional help

a. Many people living with obesity and heart disease for instance may have a sleep disorder, and a common one is sleep apnoea. If you experience any of the symptoms below or you are not sure of your condition, play it safe and seek professional help;

i. You snore very loudly (you may need someone to alert you)

ii. You often feel sleepy during the day

iii. You often wake up with headaches, dry mouth or sore throat.

iv. You have high blood pressure or heart failure that is not improving with treatment.

v. You regularly wake up several times at night. This includes waking up to urinate.

You may improve your discussion with your health professional by keeping a Sleep Diary for about ten days prior to consultation. You will note your sleep habits; when you go to bed, wake up time, time you physically get out of bed. Track other activities such as nap time and duration, if you are lucky to exercise, state the time, intensity and duration. Remember to note your consumption of alcohol and caffeine products as well as meals especially supper; quantity and spice and oil content.

Remember sleep contributes to your general wellbeing; improve your sleep by eating appropriately, exercising regularly, maintaining a reasonable body weight and getting regular medical check-up.


Dr. Kojo Cobba Essel

Moms’ Health Club


*Dr Essel is a medical doctor and is ISSA certified in exercise therapy and fitness nutrition.

Thought for the week – “drinking bitter Cocoa daily as part of a healthy lifestyle may reduce your risk of a stroke by improving blood circulation”


1. Essential Heart Guide 2012 – Mayo Clinic.

2. Extracts from Dr. Mfodwo’s (Psychiatrist, Sleep Specialist) interview on Joy FM and Viasat 1.

Source: Essel, Kojo