Here's the lowdown on why sleep deprivation in adults is a serious issue

There was a time when eight hours of sleep used to be the norm. Today, thanks to television, round-the-clock internet connectivity and all the gadgets that facilitate it, longer working hours, long commutes to work, many of us are majorly sleep deprived and are robbing ourselves of one of the simplest ways to fight stress and rejuvenate ourselves.

Says Dr N. Ramakrishnan, director, Nithra Institute of Sleep Sciences, “Most adults are now adapting, assuming and accepting that six to six and half hours of sleep is good enough and consequently experience sleep debt.”

So what is the norm? How much sleep does a person need ideally — granted, of course, that there may be individual variations? Most adults require six to eight hours of sleep. The hormonal changes that occur with the menstrual periods may warrant extra sleep time for the women at those times. Newborns sleep for almost eighteen to twenty hours daily. School-going toddlers (around the age of four) may sleep for about ten hours (day-time nap and night-time sleep included). Adolescents require about eight to nine hours but most of them don't get it due to competitive schooling and peer pressure. Sleep deprivation appears to start from childhood these days,” he says.

One group that invariably struggles with sleep problems is the elderly. Thanks to napping during the day, or lack of exercise, what little sleep they get is disturbed.

Dr. Ramakrishnan points out that elderly people require similar amount of sleep as adolescents do but often tend to split the sleep with a daytime nap, which sometimes reduces their night- time sleep hours. “Some senior citizens may develop 'advanced sleep phase syndrome' and sleep very early (before 9 pm) and wake up early (around 3 or 4 pm),” he says.

All of us probably know some lucky people who can get by with less sleep than the rest of us lesser mortals. Does medical science have an explanation for this?

“Yes, there are a few who are perfectly comfortable with less than six hours sleep (short sleepers). It is also true that some may require more than eight hours (long sleepers),” states Dr Ramakrishnan.

Lack of sleep should not be dismissed as one of those hazards that only leaves people crabby and irritable; it could also affect people in many other ways and predispose one to serious health conditions.

According to Dr Ramakrishnan sleep deprivation could lead to psychosocial disturbances such as anxiety, depression, irritability, memory disturbances and affect social interactions. “Overall productivity is also affected at work. It could also lead to high BP (hypertension), diabetes, heart disease and strokes,” he says.

A five-point plan to avoid sleep deprivation:

l Developing a sleep routine with fixed sleep and wake up time is essential.

l Dinner should be at least two hours before bed time.

l Morning walks help in good sleep afterwards as sunlight exposure has a positive impact on sleep.

l A glass of milk or a banana at night will also help.

l Avoid vigorous exercise close to bedtime