93 per cent of people in India are sleep deprived, getting less than their requirement of sleep

When I learnt that ideally a third of my lifetime should be spent sleeping, I was sad. Sad because I realise that as a younger person I did sleep eight hours everyday, but not any longer.

Over the years there has been a gradual change in my sleeping habits – it has fallen from eight to six hours. There are still those rare occasions when I do go to sleep at 10 p.m. and wake up around 6 a.m., feeling rested and really fresh. This is because I had not broken my rapid eye movement (REM) cycles during sleep, explained N. Ramakrishnan, director of Nithra Institute of Sleep Sciences.

“The usual sleep time is 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. and wake up time is 5 a.m. to 7 a.m. Each REM cycle lasts one and a half to two hours. When sleep time is delayed a portion of the REM cycle is lost. A lot of people have longer REM cycle during the early morning. When you break the REM cycle you will feel you have not slept well,” he said. Naturally, I yearn for that eight-hour sleep.

My consolation is that 93 per cent of people in India are sleep deprived, getting less than their requirement of sleep, according to a survey done by Philip Healthcare. Those surveyed complained of insomnia, inability to maintain sleep through the night and going to bed late and sleeping during work.

S. Rajarethinam, Head, Department of Psychiatry, Government Kilpauk Hospital says: “Many a time we are inducing man-made sleep deprivation. The competitive world has robbed us of our sleep.” Under his leadership, the hospital launched a sleep clinic in 2010 and has been receiving many patients. “Forty per cent of the patients who walk into an outpatient department have some sort of sleep problems. Much of it could be associated with their ailment. Even an ache could interfere with sound sleep,” he says.

But, he adds that not all people require eight hours of sleep. Some can make do with five to six hours and others need seven to nine hours. His understanding sleep patterns came from observing fellow students in hostel. “I have seen students who would be up early but remain alert all day whereas I am among those who sleep longer.”

When someone does not sleep enough their higher cognitive functions, attention and abilities are affected. Fatigue sets in as the body is not well rested and this affects work. It is an established fact that most of the major accidents have occurred in the wee hours of the day.

Anxiety, stress, smoking, alcohol, intake of caffeine close to bedtime and psychiatric disorders steal a night's peaceful sleep. Constant intrusion of work into bedtime could put a person at risk for diabetes, weight gain and high blood pressure.

During an interaction with corporate employees sometime ago, nutritionist Varsha suggested a way to get over the day's stress. She provided an ideal menu, which ended the day with grandma's recipe of glass of buttermilk garnished with a little ginger, asafoetida, salt and curry leaves. This not only detoxifies the system but is also acts as a relaxant.

Maintaining sleep hygiene about going to bed at the same time everyday, adequately darkening the room, maintaining a comfortable temperature and using the bedroom only for sleeping and not as a workplace or for recreation are some tips that are regularly offered.

For those of us who believe that we are either insomniac or have other sleep related problems, Dr. Rajarethinam's advice is: “Go to your family physician and discuss the issue with him before seeking a specialist's help. If he knows you well from your childhood he will also have a solution to your problem.”

R. Sujatha writes on health for The Hindu

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