We sleep for six to eight hours everyday that makes up close to 25 per cent of our lives. This is deeply disproportionate to our knowledge about sleep and sleep patterns. Jagruti, Swapna, Sushupti and Turiya are all various stages of wakefulness and sleep mentioned in our ancient scriptures. These correlate well with what we now know about the various sleep stages. The research and studies that have been conducted around sleep over the last three to four decades have all hinted at sleep deprivation as a public health epidemic, the need for sleeping seven to nine hours and sleeping around others for comfort. Yet there is an increase in the number of patients suffering from disorders and their debilitating consequences on our health and well-being.
“Youngsters today are spending a great deal of time staying awake at night. This has unimaginably negative consequences. Our study has shown that adolescents, who sleep less than six to seven hours a day, tend to be suffering from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). There are more children today than ever, who are suffering from anxiety, depression, wrong decision-making, and emotional outburst. So we need to embrace sleep hygiene for our collective well-being,” says Dr Vivek Nangia, Head of Pulmonology at Max Hospital, Saket. It is important to understand the science behind sleep, the causes and consequences of sleep disorders and lifestyle changes to avoid the occurrence of such disorders.
1) What are some of the most crucial benefits of a good sleeping regime?
Sleep is crucial for a lot of reasons. It helps the body rejuvenate, ensures cellular repair, allows memory consolidation and restores body functions. It also regulates the functioning of the immune system that enables the antibodies to perform better and reduces the chances of catching infection. Good sleep ensures regular hormonal balancing and a proper circadian rhythm.
Some consequences of a lack of sleep include emotional and hyperactivity disorders, stress and anxiety. When asleep, the body seems to be resting, but along with that it carries out an important function of recuperating from the damages that have occurred in the body throughout the day. It is this that allows you to be fresh and functional the next morning.
2) What is the right amount of sleep that an individual needs? Does that depend upon and vary according to age?
It very much depends on the age. Newborns require 14-15 hours of sleep per day, followed by toddlers who require 12-14 hours. Teenagers must sleep for 10-12 hours, adults for 8-10 hours and ageing people, between the age group of 50-60 years, need 7-8 hours. Finally those above the age of 60, must sleep for 6-7 hours a day.
3) What are the different types of sleep disorders? Could you elaborate on their causes and consequences?
There are four types of sleep disorders — Insomnia, Parasomnia, Hypersomnia and Circadian Rhythm Disorder.
Insomnia is a condition in which people are unable to sleep or even if they do, wake up after a short spell. Parasomnia is when an individual experiences an altered kind of behaviour while asleep. Hypersomnia is excessive sleepiness but at the wrong times. Circadian rhythm disorder is a condition in which the individual is awake during the night but sleeps during the day.
Each of the four will have different causes and complications. Some causes of insomnia include depression, anxiety, stress, work pressure and consuming excessive coffee and tea in the evening.
Hypersomnia could be a result of obstructive sleep apnea. It is a condition in which a person has a disturbed life, wakes up in the middle of the night and/or feels breathless or choked. People dealing with it are not able to wake up fresh in the morning and tend to feel heavy-headed and tired throughout the day. They are likely to fall asleep while carrying out routine activities, including driving, that could prove to be fatal.
Obstructive sleep apnea leads to multiple complications, including hypertension, diabetes, stroke or cardiac arrest and heart disease. It further causes a major drop in performance levels.
4) What role does screen time play in sleep disorders?
Irrespective of whether you suffer from a sleep disorder or not, for healthy sleep hygiene, I would indiscriminately recommend for each individual to keep all screens, including laptops, television and mobile phones, out of their bedroom. Soft music, dim light and a good aroma should improve the atmospherics and set the stage for a good night’s sleep.
5) How can those with long working hours, driven by deadlines, maintain sleep discipline?
It is important for them to adjust their timings. What they incur is a sleep debt and studies show that by remaining awake late in the night, subjects showed lower performance levels compared to someone who had slept for a good eight hours. Many studies conducted on athletes have made it mandatory for them to sleep at least eight hours the night before their big day. This is done to ensure that they perform the best the next morning.
6. What if one compensates for the lack of sleep at night by sleeping the same amount during the day?
This is a misconception that urgently needs to be dealt with. It is not okay to sleep in the day after skipping a night’s sleep. Nothing compensates for the latter, not even equal hours of sleep during the day.
This is mostly because an individual’s body is tuned to a circadian rhythm since one’s birth. It includes timings that you have followed all your life, like waking up with sunlight. If you try to change that rhythm, then your body clock will not adapt to it and if disrupted, will create complications.
7) How can night-shifters maintain a good sleep schedule and prevent disorders?
You should continue such a job till your body allows and then change it. What is concerning is not just their present sleep schedule, but the fact that it would take them close to four years to get back to a stage that could be called good sleep hygiene, according to studies.
8) What are some correctives that could be incorporated in one’s everyday life to prevent the occurrence of sleep disorders?
Certain lifestyle changes are crucial. These include fixing a sleep schedule for oneself, setting regular timings for going to bed, avoiding carbonated drinks and alcohol in the evening, avoiding exercise in the evening and limiting it to the morning, having a light dinner low on carbohydrates, taking a light stroll and keeping bedrooms technology-free.