What is sleep health?
What is healthy sleep? Is it the absence of sleep disorders, or is it more than that? Is it sleeping well enough to support physical and mental health and waking function? Current healthcare systems in sleep have been very focussed on diagnosing and managing sleep disorders, but is that enough? Should we go beyond that and help people achieve sleep health to support overall health and well-being? We believe sleep health is more than managing sleep disorders, and providing information and resources to promote sleep health is one of the reasons for us to develop SleepHub.
Defining sleep health
A number of definitions of sleep health have been used. Most commonly it is seen as getting adequate amounts of sleep, the opposite of ‘sleep deficiency’. However, a broader definition could include sleep health as:
“A pattern of sleep and wakefulness that promotes physical and mental well-being.”
This type of definition expresses sleep health as something positive to work towards and something that could be measured in people with and without sleep disorders.
Sleep health vs sleep disorders
In healthcare, too often the focus is on managing disorders when they arise, or cause ill health. However, a better model for keeping people well is to look at what can be done either before disorders develop or to prevent disorders from causing significant impact or ill health. This concept of aiming for health rather than just treating ill health can be applied to managing sleep.
I can certainly identify with this, as the field of sleep medicine is largely focussed on diagnosing and managing sleep disorders. My training throughout medical school, then specialist training was very focussed on managing disorders and treating individual episodes when people were unwell enough to need hospital care. My early years as a specialist, working in the public hospital system continued this focus, treating ill health, but once people were discharged from hospital having little opportunity to work on restoring them to health or helping them prevent becoming unwell again.
Since changing to working in private practice, I’ve been able to focus more on promoting sleep health both in people I see in the practice, and as an advocate for sleep through research, teaching and working with media. Over the last 5 years, working with the team at Golden Door Health Retreat Elysia, has taught me a lot about focussing on health and maintaining health. That is an area that Western medicine hasn’t done particularly well.
The focus is beginning to shift, with a recent commentary in the New England Journal of Medicine discussing the importance of looking at what people do at home in their day to day lives, and using this to better understand factors contributing to their health and opportunities for improving health. The shift in focus from managing sleep disorders to optimising sleep health reinforces the need for the healthcare industry to think outside the box and move away from the traditional model of just managing problems when they arise. The current system focusses on managing sleep disorders, but what people want is health and sleep health.
Dimensions of sleep health
Professor Daniel Buysse from University of Pittsburgh has proposed a scale for measuring sleep health in this paper in the journal Sleep, that incorporates five key dimensions. He proposes the SATED scale:
- ‘S’atisfaction with sleep
- ‘A’lertness during waking hours
- ‘T’iming of sleep
- Sleep ‘E’fficiency (proportion of time in bed spent asleep)
- Sleep ‘D’uration
Each of these measures has been shown to be associated with health problems if they are not adequate, and can be fairly easily measured, so lend themselves to being used as a simple scale.
SleepHub & sleep health
In developing SleepHub, Kris and I thought about the different factors that are important to sleeping well, and designed the site and logo to represent these. We feel there are 4 key over-lapping aspects that need to be addressed to sleep your best:
- Wellness – maintaining optimal well-being
- General health – maintaining good physical and mental health
- Thinking and behaving appropriately around sleep
- Sleep disorders – recognising and managing sleep disorders when present
In our logo we have used an encompassing outer circle to represent the sound mind and sound body that enables healthy sleep. The 4 inner, overlapping circles represent each of the 4 above areas that need to be addressed to achieve a sound mind and body, and through that healthy sleep.
Related posts & links:
- Healthy Sleep – podcast episode
- Health retreats and sleep
- Prioritise ‘Me’ time
- How much sleep do I need?
- Good sleep. It’s not about the night
- Healthy people 2020 – US government initiative to improve population health including sleep health
Need more information about how you can sleep better?
At Sleephub we understand the struggle people endure with sleeping problems which is why we have created a comprehensive FAQs page with information for those seeking information about sleep disorders and potential solutions.