Stress and anxiety are leading to sleepless nights for South Africans, a senior researcher at the University of Cape Town (UCT) tells Health For Mzansi. On 18 March we observe International World Sleep Day, and this year’s theme is “quality sleep, sound mind, happy mind”. So what does Mzansi need to do to sleep more and stress less?
Director and senior researcher at UCT’s Sleep Science Dr Dale Rae says that although most South Africans are finding it difficult to get quality sleep because of the various challenges that they are dealing with, they need to make getting quality sleep a priority.
“One needs to recognise their sensitivity for sleep, protect their sleep and make sleep their priority. They can do this by looking at their diet, getting some exercise at least three times a week,” says Rae.
She adds, “They need to do things that they love doing, avoid eating too late in the evening, reduce screen time and have a cut-off time that allows them to sleep.”
The struggle is real
According to the Sleep Foundation, your quality of sleep is measured by a number of factors, including how soon you fall asleep after getting into bed, the duration of sleep and feeling rested, restored and energised when you wake up in the morning.
Phuti Mabutla (42) from Pretoria got into the habit of sleeping at midnight while he was still in matric, and sometimes he sleeps for only three hours per night when he is worried.
“I struggled to sleep at first because I worried about myself and the people that I care about, but as time went on it became better. Now, with the increasing costs of living, I went back to struggling again,” he says.
Busi Malope (39) from Gauteng, does not remember the last time she had quality sleep because she sometimes relied on alcohol or sleeping pills to have adequate sleep.
Without self-medicating, Malope says that she would be up until one in the morning, but when she has taken either the sleeping pills or alcohol, she is able to be asleep by ten at night.
Soweto resident Raymond Dube (43) says watching online videos on his phone usually helps him to fall asleep on those rare occasions when he would struggle to sleep.
“I rarely struggle to sleep because I depend on working hard. If I have worked hard during the day, I’m guaranteed to get quality sleep. And it doesn’t matter how many hours of sleep I might get but if I was tired, I get quality sleep,” Dube explains.
Having dealt with stress and depression before in the past, Dube has trained his mind to not focus on the negatives. “Covid-19 didn’t really affect my sleep that much because whenever a negative thought would creep up on me, I would avoid it by doing things that I love.”
The impact of little sleep
According to Rae, while some individuals could get away with shorter sleep duration instead of the recommended seven to nine hours for adults, this is not sustainable in the long run and the long-term effects could sometimes result in mental health conditions.
Lecturer at the University of Johannesburg (UJ) Dr Andile Mayekiso elaborates on some of the consequences of poor sleep. People who do not get enough quality sleep are likely to be anxious and perform poorly at work, he explains.
He adds that one of the misconceptions about sleep, especially in the black community, is that people who sleeps for longer hours are often accused of being lazy.
How you can get better sleep
Rae advises people who are struggling to sleep to seek professional help instead of self-medicating, because things like sleeping pills do not address the underlying cause.
“Sleep has not been a priority but over the years things have gotten better and we have experts that are trying to rectify that,” adds Rae.
According to Mayekiso, access to sleep specialists are mostly available at private facilities but they come at a hefty price.
“Public healthcare facilities have these services but those in power are either useless to ensure that they function properly or simply don’t care. One will attend one session and never hear or get another appointment from government facilities,” he says.