Sleep is essential for our health, yet two-thirds of adults don’t get the recommended eight hours of sleep a night, according to the World Health Organisation, which has declared sleep loss an epidemic throughout industrialised nations.


World Sleep Day, on March 15, is a call to action to address the burden of sleep problems on the individual and society, through better prevention and management of sleep disorders. Last year, 55 countries participated in World Sleep Day, and in its 12th year, the theme is: ‘Healthy sleep, healthy ageing’.


“Sleep problems threaten health and quality of life for up to 45% of the world’s population. In South Africa, about 30 to 40% of adults indicate some level of insomnia, and about 10 to 15% say it is severe,” says behavioural strategist Joni Peddie, MD of Making Resilient People and the official champion of World Sleep Day in South Africa.


Peddie, who speaks on a number of sleep-related topics, says the three elements of good quality sleep are:

  • quantity, i.e., enough sleep for the sleeper to be rested;
  • continuity, i.e., sleep periods should be seamless without fragmentation;
  • quality, as in the sleep should be deep enough to be restorative.


“High quality, restorative sleep improves brain function, aids muscle recovery, boosts longevity, balances hormones, protects the heart and fights fat. Why wouldn’t you invest in seven to eight hours a night if these are the ‘returns’ for your body?” she says.


Technology in the form of smartphones and laptops have been cited as the greatest cause of insomnia today. “The smartphone is with us 24/7 and although most people won’t admit to it, they are ‘addicted’ and can’t live with their phones being an arm’s length away. This ‘always on’ generation is suffering from insomnia and its severe health knock-on effects,” says Peddie.


Anxiety is another major cause of sleeplessness. Between 50% and 70% of people with generalised anxiety disorder report difficulty falling asleep because they can’t stop thinking about things at bedtime. “In South Africa, the political and economic stresses we face – especially in the run-up to the general election – contribute significantly to anxiety and tiredness, and in turn, sickness and ill health,” says Peddie.


In a study into the effects of sleep deprivation by Stellenbosch Business School MA student Charles King, one finding is that the cost to just one medical aid scheme of treating life-threatening diseases linked to sleeping less than the recommended eight hours a night is estimated at R22bn annually.


King stated that lack of sleep is not only related to workplace issues such as absenteeism, lack of productivity, poor work performance and accidents – which have a direct cost impact on a business – but insufficient sleep had been directly linked with seven of the 15 leading causes of death.


The risk factors for disease increases exponentially as sleep time decreases below the minimum seven-hour mark, the study showed. The risk of developing major depression was increased by 22%, coronary disease by 73%, Type 2 diabetes by up to 18% and colorectal cancer by 50%.


“Quality sleep is more beneficial to your body than what you eat, drink or how you exercise. The physical and mental impairments caused by one night of bad sleep dwarfs those caused by an equivalent absence of food or exercise,” says Peddie,


Peddie has chosen the theme, “Sleep well. Live Fully Awake” for World Sleep Day in South Africa. “Most sleep disorders are preventable and treatable, yet less than one third of sufferers seek professional help. We need to revise our cultural appreciation of sleep and reverse out neglect of it!” she says.


Get a good night’s sleep – tips by Joni Peddie

  • Wear amber glasses before bed to cut out blue light. Modern lighting from LED lights and fluorescent lamps produce about 25% to 35% more blue light than traditional incandescent lights. This blue light suppresses the production of melatonin, commonly called the ‘sleep hormone’ which is responsible for controlling one’s sleep and awake cycles.
  • Sleeping pills are not the answer. They come with a laundry list of side effects and don’t address the underlying issue.
  • Get a sleep ‘divorce’. Couples who for example are finding that a Partner’s snoring keeps them awake are now prioritising their sleep by sleeping in separate rooms.
  • Sleep in a cool room. The temperature should be between 18 and 22 degrees Celsius
  • A dark room is much better or sleep with an eye mask to
  • If you wake up in the middle of the night and you don’t fall asleep within 20 minutes, go to lounge/comfortable space and read a book until you feel sleepy – don’t lie in bed tossing and turning