Sleeping as a process has been simple since the middle ages. The sun used to go down and humans would start sliding into semi-consciousness and eventually sleep. Life was simple, to say the least.
However, medical science has advanced exponentially in the last few decades. Overall, we have concluded that sleeping is crucial for humans to work properly in terms of cognitive and physical skills. Even two days without sleep can wreak havoc on your physical health.
As a perspective, in a study, it was noticed that even 17-18 hours of wakefulness is equivalent to a blood alcohol level of 0.05% which is actually the drink driving limit in the UK.
Why Do Humans Even Sleep?
Sleep – a word that has kept scientists intrigued for a really long time. There are numerous theories about why we sleep.
A good way to understand the role of sleep is to look at what would happen if we didn’t sleep. Lack of sleep has serious effects on our brain’s ability to function. If you’ve ever pulled an all-nighter, you’ll be familiar with the following after-effects: grumpiness, grogginess, irritability and forgetfulness. After just one night without sleep, concentration becomes more difficult and attention span shortens considerably.
With continued lack of sufficient sleep, the part of the brain that controls language, memory, planning and sense of time is severely affected, practically shutting down.
Why Sleeping is So Crucial?
Sleep is a crucial element in the well-being of an individual throughout their life. It’s the single component that we can voluntarily control to protect our physical and mental health. Sleep is also associated with mental development and healthy brain function in young teens and kids which makes it extremely important. Sleep deficiency, on another hand, can expose you to numerous health problems which include poor motor skill development, poor attention spans and physical tiredness.
Overall Human Well-Being
Lack of quality has also been linked to increased instances of depression and suicide too. This can be attributed to the alteration in brain mechanism due to prolonged years of sleep deficiency. Emotions, mood and creativity are also majorly regulated by sleep.
In terms of obesity, hormones such as Ghrelin (the hunger hormone) and Leptin (fullness hormone) are balanced by sleep. Any change in proper sleep patterns actually de-balances these hormones and exposes us to the risk of obesity.
Therefore, sleep is crucial to our overall well-being. Even our immune system relies on sleep in order to be regulated. Sleeping well is not only a luxury but a necessity in the modern digitised human life.
Sleep and Culture
Traditional values, locations and cultural values often dictate a lot of our sleeping patterns. Different cultures actually reinforce different sleeping patterns. The introduction of artificial lighting after the industrialisation of the west has further reduced our sleep cycles.
Artificial lighting has led to: i.an increase in sleep onset time Ii. Monophasic Sleep (single concentrated sleep bursts)
In multiple studies carried in the developed world (10 Major Countries ) Average Sleep Time - 7.5 Hours Least Average Sleep - Japan (6 Hours and 53 Minutes) Most Average Sleep - Portugal (8 Hours and 24 Minutes)
42% of Brazilians reported regular afternoon naps vs 12% in Japan. 53% of South Africans and 46% of Portuguese admitted to regularly using sleep medications, compared to only 15% of Japanese.
Other cultural sleep norms and practices:
Spain – Siestas is popularly coined the term for afternoon naps in Spain. The culture of Siesta dates back to ancient Spanish times. A midday pause to eat lunch and nap is actually part of the culture.
United Kingdom – UK has the highest percentage of people who sleep naked than any other country in the world. In a survey by the National Sleep Foundation, people in the UK prefer sleeping with no clothing on most nights.
Scandinavia – Norway, Sweden and other Scandinavian countries often leave their toddlers to nap in the afternoon, especially in winters. It is believed that this prevents the child from getting sick.
Japan – People in Japan sleep on mats made of rice straw or wood chipboards commonly known as Tatami Mats. The width of these mats is often half the size of the length.
Central & South America – Hammocks or slings are commonly used for napping in most parts of America’s. These Hammocks protect from ants and other critters. A similar indoor hammock can be observed in parts of South India, where mothers often put sleeping babies in these swinging slings.
Africa – Sub-Saharan countries such as Ethiopia, Rwanda, Mali, Tanzania and Uganda are often faced under the threat of Malaria. Therefore, netted beds are actually embedded in the culture, these nets are made from multi-filament fibres to keep disease transmission to the lowest.
Also, the dissemination of the ‘Hustle’, a cultural phenomenon that has gripped the 21st century is another contributing factor to the sleep deprivation in our society as a whole. Now, employees are expected to work 80-hours a week to succeed and in order to ‘make it’. This obsessive cultural phenomenon is actually devoid of basic common sense and also basic humour.
In a survey by Philips, around 75% percent of adults in the US report taking alcohol, soft drugs and soothing music to improve or get to sleep. On top of that, insomnia is a growing global problem with the rate of insomnia almost doubling in from 1993 to 2007.
Also, as part of the overall digital health sector. Sleep is emerging as the next big thing. Sleep deprivation is actually receiving a lot of attention in the entrepreneurial space as well. The digital health sector is almost at an all-time high of $4.5 billion in 2015.
Sleep Startups – A New Millennial Fad or A New Era
With the disposable income rising in India, people are spending more on their health and engaging with smart devices such as fitness bands and app subscriptions. On top of that, crowdfunding platforms are bringing in many innovative startups and product to the market in record time. Many of these startups are doing pretty well and include the following:
Origin – Finland | Type – Physical Sleep Tracker | Acquired by: Apple Inc in 2017
Beddit is one of the most innovative and successful sleep startups. It offers a sleep tracker in the form of smart mattress that keeps tabs on breathing patterns, heart rate and much more. It then combines all the data to create a performance report in order for you to consult a medical practitioner if you have trouble with any of the metrics that range from snoring, sleep cycles and resting heart rate. The company was recently acquired by Apple Inc.
Origin – USA |Type – Direct To Consumer Mattress Business | Valuation – $1.1 Bn
Casper is one of the most aggressively funded sleep startups in the world. Casper as a company wants to create a culture around sleep. Casper mainly sells sleep mattresses online. However, lately, it has diversified itself with fitness partnership, nap pods and post-nap amenities.
Origin – USA | Type – Direct To Consumer Mattress Business | Valuation – $10 Mn
What started as a Kickstarter campaign in 2014 is now a company known as Brooklinen. The company mainly offers high-quality bed linens sheets at affordable prices. The company reduces its operating cost by manufacturing in Israel which has a free trade agreement with the US.
Origin – Finland | Type – Smart Ring | Latest Funding – $20 Mn
Oura is another Finnish startup that wants to improve the way you sleep. Oura is a smart ring that measures essentials such as body temperature, pulse waveforms in order to create daily charts for the user.
Origin – USA | Type – Wellness Club | Valuation – $1.1 Bn
Nap York is a sleep startup that offers sleep-as-as-service for its clients. Currently, it offers a quiet cafe and sleep pods for napping along with meditation classes. Nap York is a 24-hour facility in midtown Manhattan, New York.
Origin – USA | Type – Wellness Club | Valuation – $1 Bn
Calm was the Apple App of the Year 2017 and has gone to become a top-grossing health and fitness app. Calm essentially offers to reduce anxiety, stress and sleep issues in people. It also plans to invest deeper in spreading meditation to wider audiences. The app is filled with music and elements that resemble ASMR.
Origin – Japan | Type – Sleep Device | Valuation – $20 Mn
Cheero is helping its audience to sleep better through a smart device that employs light, sound and aroma. It’s a singular device that diffuses essential oils and soothing lights to keep its users relaxed.
Origin – France | Type – HeadBand | Valuation – $35 Mn
Another sleep startup, Rythm is a headband that emits pink noise to create deeper sleep. A $350 device also works as an alarm clock and wakes up its user only when they are in the lightest sleep phase.
Further, Nyxoah, a Belgian-Israeli Startup has developed a device to treat sleep apnea and snoring.
Balluga, an Italian startup has created a smart-bed with an anti-snoring system.
Simba, a London based company has created a dual spring memory foam mattress to improve sleep.
The Generation of Exhaustion
Dr Matthew Walker, popularly known as @The Sleep Diplomat has alarmingly said ‘’silent sleep loss is one of the greatest epidemics of the 21st century”. The statement would have come off as scandalous if it didn’t come from Dr Matthew Walker. He is a Professor of Neuroscience and Psychology at the University of California, Berkeley. He has published over 100 scientific studies and is the author of the bestselling book Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams. Which is currently the #1 Amazon Bestseller in Neuroscience.
He further adds that only 8% of the human population was trying to less 6 hours compared to 50% in 2017.
The main reasons he cites is “electrification of the night” and “porous borders on start and finish times of work”. Overall, we a lonelier, depressed society with overdependence on caffeine and alcohol.
Facts about Sleep Loss:
Global sleep loss epidemic – the average American sleeps only 6.5 hours per night
Lack of sleep – Major predictor of “all-cause mortality” including cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, depression, and suicide. Based on a study, the less sleep a CEO has, the less charismatic they would be.
Chronic Exhaustion – 2% of the GDP of First-World nation, around 11 billion dollars lost each year to a lack of sleep. Being awake for 21 hours, you are as impaired as someone who is legally drunk.
Alzheimer’s – Less sleep is deeply associated with increased risk of getting Alzheimer’s
Blood Pressure – One of the best blood pressure medication is Deep Sleep. Sleep boosts testosterone and lack of sleep makes you 10 years older from a testosterone standpoint.
Weight Gain – Lack of sleep makes you eat 300-550 more calories per day.
Immune System – Sleep is deeply connected with your immune system. Only one night of a 4-hour sleep drops natural killer cells (body cancer fight cells) by 70%.
Practical Steps To Be Taken: 1. Minimum Sleep - Sleeping at least 7 hours should be a priority. 2. Regularity - Sleep & wake up at the same time to avoid ‘social jetlag’. 3. Temperature - Keep your bedroom 18-degree Celsius (Human body needs to drop its core temperature 2-3 degrees to fall asleep). A hot bath after sleep helps. 4. Darkness - Smartphones hinder growth of melatonin. Blue Light tricks the brain into thinking it’s day time and shut off melatonin production which makes it difficult to sleep. Reading on a smartphone an hour before your normal sleeping time delays melatonin production by 3 hours! 5. Staying in Bed - Staying in bed for more than 20 minutes trains your brain to that it’s ok to be awake in bed. 6. Caffeine & Alcohol - Cut down on caffeine as it prevents Deep Sleep. Alcohol, on the other hand, fragments your sleep and makes you feel less fresh in the morning.
Sleep as Part of Overall Physical Health
Getting proper deep sleep cleans your brains from toxins deposits. This may sound vain but actually, during proper deep sleep cycles, humans go through cleaning of amyloid deposits (a toxic protein). Poor sleepers actually delay their impairment. Poor and low sleep times are one of the main propagating factors of dementia and Alzheimers later in life.
Even sleeping 5 hours a night makes you 3x times more likely to catch a cold than someone who sleeps 8 hours a night.
On other metrics such as Mental Health – deep sleep is necessary to dream. Dreaming in itself is a therapeutic experience which is highly regulated by our sleeping brain. Adolescents who sleep less are more prone to suicidal thoughts. Overall, regulated sleep or high-quality sleep is not optional rather necessary for our well-being.
One has to understand that there is no sleep bank – sleep cannot be accumulated and completed on the weekend. Hence, sleeping well is the only way to reduce innumerable problems.
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