World Sleep Day marked at uni

The University of Otago marked World Sleep Day yesterday with a talk devoted to raising awareness about that "soft embalmer of the still midnight".

With the world in the grip of a pandemic and climate change, a brand-new war in Europe, and an impending refugee crisis, sleep may seem more elusive than ever.

However, sleep expert and director of the University of Otago’s WellSleep Research Group Alister Neill argues that now more than ever we should be cultivating our relationship with Morpheus.

Prof Neill described sleep as a "human right".

"We spend one third of our lives asleep. Sleep is just as important as diet and exercise to good heath," he said.

The World Sleep Society, an American nonprofit dedicated to advancing sleep health worldwide, started World Sleep Day in 2008. This year’s theme was "quality sleep, sound mind, happy world".

To link a good sleep to a happy world was not an exaggeration, Prof Neill said.

He said poor sleep had many ill-effects, and wondered if it was surprising that Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump were both reluctant sleepers.

Prof Neill said the quality of sleep was a public health issue.

Unlike fur seals, which can sleep with half a brain when in water, humans need to shut off totally.

Sleep was linked to health, poverty, and housing.

"If housing is not affordable, you will have more people sleeping together and more disruption.

"If houses are not warm, you will have poor sleep," he said.

The negative consequences of curtailed sleep were legion, Prof Neill said, noting that 20% of all vehicle crashes and 15% of all crash fatalities in New Zealand were related to fatigue.

He said 10% of New Zealanders suffer from insomnia and 40% awake feeling weary.

Prof Neill also advised how to sleep better.

Work, leisure, and sleeping spaces needed to be separated, he said, and we should put our devices to bed before ourselves.

Napping and going to bed too early should be avoided.

Ideally, sleep would last between 7 and 9 hours and be deep and unbroken.

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