At least 30 per cent of residents suffer sleep disorders but are not aware of the problem, say doctors

Madurai is popularly called ‘Thoonga Nagaram,’ the city that never sleeps. That nickname justifiably describes its night life. But it also appears to apply to the swelling ranks of the city’s insomniacs and sleep deprived.

“Our assessment is that at least 30 per cent of people in Madurai will be having sleep disorders but are unaware of it. The number of patients coming to us with either primary or secondary sleep disorder is an indication of that, and it is time to have a massive sleep advocacy campaign in this city,” says C. P. Rabindranath, Head of Department of Psychiatry at the Government Rajaji Hospital (GRH) here.

Psychiatrists, physicians and mental health counsellors say that sleep is an integral part of health and a good night’s sleep powers us for the next day.

Leading psychiatrist in the State Dr. C. Ramasubramanian cautions that sleeplessness is the first symptom or a cardinal sign of a psychological problem and there is no point in having a cool air-conditioned bedroom when the mind is overheated. “It is common for everyone to have disturbed sleep for a couple of days when there is some anxiety or crisis at home. But if the problem persists for a long period, it needs urgent attention,” he says.

The basic reasons for sleep scarcity, Dr.CRS says, are depression, anxiety, alcohol addiction and stress. Another contributing factor is working night shifts. If a person misses sleep, he or she is vulnerable to hypertension, diabetes, myocardial and neurological problems, apart from the economic loss attached to it.

“Even though sleep disorder is widely prevalent in many homes, people do not view it as a problem. First we have to make them realise the importance of normal sleep among all age groups especially adolescents. When we have 10 new cases of sleep disorder in GRH every day, you can imagine the seriousness of the problem,” Dr.Ravindranath observes.

It is said that one-third of our lives is spent sleeping. A normal adult requires eight hours of sleep at night, and children need an hour more. But are children sleeping enough these days under pressure of studies and early school timings?

Canada-based sleep researcher S.R.Pandi Perumal, who hails from Madurai, observes that schools include sleep hygiene on the agenda of Parent Teacher Association meetings.

Sleep therapy

“In India, we don’t give priority to sleeping. We think that food and exercise alone are necessary for good health. This is a wrong notion and it is time sleep therapy is promoted as a special discipline, just like sleep clinics in foreign countries. The focus must come from the MBBS level,” Mr.Pandi Perumal says.

Inadequate sleep results in poor memory, lack of concentration among children, road accidents, neurological disorders and psychological problems.

Dr.CRS recommends mind relaxation techniques for sleeping before putting the sleep deprived person on medication. “If getting sleep is a problem, there are people who wake up immediately after midnight and remain awake. This early morning insomnia is very dangerous,” he warns.

R.Rohini, rehabilitation officer, Association for Social Health in India-Madurai centre, who conducts counselling sessions, says that lack of harmony within the family is one of the prime reasons for sleep deficit.

“Our counsellors are handling a growing number of cases in the domestic domain, and sleeplessness is bringing down the potential of many persons,” she points out. Only those who wake up to the problem and seek expert advice can honestly say ‘good night.”

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