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Is sleep a rumour these days?

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The biological clock has come under great stress in modern times, what with new economy jobs that have shattered the very notion of a fixed sleep time. ANAND SANKAR laments those unlucky souls who want to curl up desperately

Conflict would be a very easy word. Or rather one feels the pull of gravity has just got stronger. Even the alarm on the mobile comes with that comfortable option snooze. But we start everyday with the absolutely awful realisation that we do have to wake up from cosy early morning slumber.There are a lucky few who get to snuggle for that recommended eight hours a day but in this city, given our frenzied lifestyles, not many enjoy that pleasure. Cases of insomnia might be on the rise but more often than not it is not the biggest reason for a lack of sleep. It is considered quite fashionable in the city to be in the IT sector and doing all those trips abroad. But the reality is quite otherwise. Once on a flight back to the city I picked up a small talk with a couple of marketing whizzes from one of the IT biggies. They had been to Los Angeles, Paris, Tokyo and Kuala Lumpur, all in a span of less than two weeks. I wished aloud that I could travel similarly and back came the reply, in plain speak, no marketing: "My body hardly knows the difference between three meals in a day. I just want to sleep, but when and where, I don't know."Back in 1988, Pushpak, the silent dark comedy starring Kamal Haasan was shot in the city. Remember the little bit about sleep weary Haasan just unable to doze off in the plush and quiet Windsor Manor, because he misses the sounds of the late night show from the old theatre next to his bachelor pad. He goes back to records the din , plays it to himself, and it of course is the lullaby that puts him to sleep back in the star hotel. But are hotels really that silent? Listen to K. Sandesh, an event manager who spends most of his waking hours in them. He says though he misses out on most of the everyday noise, the one he really cannot stand is the hum of the air conditioner. "You just can't escape it. Right from the conference halls to your room, there is that constant drone in the background. People say you get used to it but after more than three years in the field, but I haven't been able to. Sleeping is the biggest problem, because the hum just doesn't allow me to doze off completely. I try my level best to get a room with an air conditioner that can be turned off but nowadays everybody has central air conditioning."The perils of working in U.S. Time has been well documented due to the city's experience with the call centre industry. Disturbing the biological sleep rhythm has been documented to result in everything from psychological to hormonal disorders. Perception is that these employees sleep through the day but a significant percentage of them almost get no sleep at all, just ask college professors in the city."We actively discourage students from doing night shifts at call centres. But there is not much control we have over them off campus. We can identify the ones that have not slept for days immediately. They have their own reasons for working, some of them really do need the money but they also need the attendance, so they just come and sit in class. They try hard to not doze off but some try to hide behind others just to get a nap. When we did a counselling session for some of these students, we were shocked that they hardly slept for four hours in a day," says a professor in a prominent city college.Power naps were billed as the answer to sleep deficit. It lasts about 15-20 minutes and was coined by Cornell University social psychologist James Maas. It is said to maximise the benefits of sleep versus time. There was much hype about the corporate sector in the city utilising power naps, but things seem to have sobered of late.S. Ramya is a human resources manager at a software firm, and she says the policy in her company now is to encourage healthy work schedules. "We tried everything from piped music to power naps. But we found what works better is getting work schedules organised better. We rather prefer our employees had a good night's sleep at home. We do have dormitory facilities on our campus which can be used to for a nap, but it is mostly utilised by employees who end up working too late to go home."SNOOZE jacketThis is a good buy for those endless journeys call centre employees have to make at those unearthly hours before they can reach home and hit the sack. This weird jacket recently won a prize at the industrial design competition. Called the Excubo, it has a big popped collar that's used to cushion and hold in place the wearer's neck while he sleep sits. Also the collar provides a bit of privacy, so you can nap somewhat anonymously. The name Excubo means "I sleep outside" in Latin. It has been designed by Matthew Gale and the prize was in the prestigious Industrial Designers Society of America competition. For more information visit http://www.makaga.com/projects/excubo/.The BBC has a section on its website explaining sleep (http://www.bbc.co.uk/science/humanbody/sleep/). Try the interactive sleep profiler there.

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