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The Great Performance Enhancer and Developmental Aid: An Interview with Resla Wesonga

Resla Wesonga is the Outreach Coordinator at Princeton in Africa.

She was born and raised in Kenya and graduated from Yale University with a double major in African Studies and Political Science in May 2019.

She has worked with the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington DC, Fidelity Bank in Accra, Ghana, Keepod in Tel Aviv, Israel, and iHub Research in Nairobi, Kenya.

She is published in the Sleep Health: Journal of the National Sleep Foundation and enjoys talking about the importance of sleep health to our personal and professional lives as well us to the development of the African continent.

You can join us in live conversation with Resla on May 28th.

How did you get into speaking about sleep and development?

I went to Yale in 2015 and graduated in 2019. I studied African studies and political science so sleep is not in any way my area of expertise.

I took a class on sleep in my senior fall semester in college. The class was very interesting and I learnt a lot about sleep health. I had two very good professors

I was shocked by how sleep health was not something that was considered important on the African continent, in the societies I had been in, even among my friends in college.

So even though I’m not in any way a medical doctor or an expert on sleep, I like to lead conversations and talk to people about the importance of sleep and what we can do to have good sleep hygiene.

What do you mean by good sleep hygiene, and how does it relate to development?

When I say sleep hygiene, I just mean good sleeping habits. You go to bed on time, you sleep well, you sleep enough.

People of different ages have different sleep needs. For example people in their mid-twenties need to be sleeping a minimum of 8 hours, but that depends on people’s circadian rhythms.

If it runs a bit longer, you might need up to 11 hours, but then there are some whose rhythm runs shorter by a few minutes, and those individuals might need about 7 hours.

Sleep hygiene is also about whether you are sacrificing sleep, especially in high-school and college. Sleep is seen as something you can sacrifice, in order to save time to hang out with friends or finish homework.

Sleep often comes last, when it’s just as important for our health as any other factor.

If you keep good sleep hygiene, your body is healthier on a micro-scale. You have fewer diseases, you reduce obesity, you eat better, you retain memories better – there are a whole slew of benefits that we get from sleep.

On a micro-scale it improves you as a person, but I think it's something to think about when we are talking about development.

When you are thinking about planning cities and where you are putting residential neighborhoods, are you putting it where there is a lot of traffic in the morning or where it is quiet?

When you are asking people to wake up much earlier to spend two hours in traffic to get to work on time and then two hours in the evening, are they shedding sleep?

Another aspect is education.

You’ve probably experienced this: when you are younger you tend to stay up and wake up much later. So when you’re telling children to go to school at 6 in the morning when you know their circadian rhythm actually runs late and needs them to sleep until later on in the morning like at 8, how is that affecting their development?

In the sleep conversations you’ve led, what do participants find particularly interesting?

One time I led a seminar for high-school students and one thing they were interested in was the fact that if you are sleeping 6 hours a night every day for a week, you are chronically sleep deprive. That means that your ability to concentrate and perform any task is severely compromised.

Another thing that people were very interested in is sleep debt.

If your body requires 9 hours of sleep every day and you only get 7 hours, you accrue a sleep debt that you will need to pay.

That’s why you find people sleeping longer on a weekend if they have missed sleep, and even if they do they won’t feel fully rested because they are paying the sleep debt they have accrued over time.

Another thing is the correlation between sleep and different diseases, sleep and memory and how sleep the night before an exam can positively affect performance.

If you go to bed at 2am, that will affect your sleep cycle for the next week since you are experiencing a social jet lag that needs to be corrected.

What have you learnt from leading these conversations?

It's a common misconception that people see sleep as something that's passive and not something you need to work on actively. That's why I talk to people about this, and I guess that's part of the challenge of talking about sleep. All I can say is that this is the information coming from scientists that have researched this.

Got questions? Join our Facebook event page for the latest updates on Resla's webinar.

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