My friend often tells me she has trouble waking up in the morning because she can't fall asleep at night. "I am a night person!" she claims. "That's how my body-clock works, and it has always been like that," she adds, adamantly.
I often advise her to force herself to sleep or drink warm milk at night. Even meditate. But her sleeping patterns haven't changed. Though I find it hard to believe, I realised erratic sleeping patterns is one of the most common problems faced by a lot of people, especially the youth.
According to a study, India is the second most sleep-deprived country in the world after Japan. Additionally, according to Great Indian Sleep Scorecard 2019, 16 per cent people across India believe they have insomnia; 48 per cent people complain of back problems nationally; 80 per cent people feel sleepy at work 1-3 days a week.
It a vicious cycle of sleep deprivation; followed by lethargy and stress. Until finally, you end up overloading on caffeine to combat your sleep deprivation.
So, how do you fix the sleep issue and learn to improve your sleeping patterns? The Bridge Chronicle spoke to a sleep doctor (yes! that is a real thing) Dr Nimish Shah, a Pulmonologist and a Somnologist, to understand the science behind sleeping and how to do it better.
How does improper sleep affect us?
Sleep predominantly has two functions -- one is to rejuvenate, and the other is to rest the body. People who don't sleep very well always feel tired, lethargic through the day. They feel very sleepy, and their productivity goes down. They are unable to focus on work and also have lower immunity levels.
Improper sleep is also known to have health implications on blood pressure, diabetes, risk of strokes, heart attacks. Most importantly, sleeping patterns also affect your weight. Sleep deprivation causes hormonal imbalances that lead to hindering weight loss.
What could be the reason for this disturbed sleep cycle?
There are multiple factors in sleep disorder which include problems like snoring, sleep apnea, hyperventilation. Another reason is insomnia, which is two types again, constant insomnia or sleeps maintenance insomnia.
Here people either can't go to sleep -- or if they do go to sleep, they wake up, and they can't put themselves back to sleep. Lifestyle also plays a crucial role when it comes to a faulty sleep pattern. Screen time has increased, and that could be a contributing reason for sleep-related issues. The more screen time closer to your bedtime, all of that impedes and affects sleep. Other reasons could be over intake of caffeine, alcohol and smoking.
Do sleeping patterns change with age? And if yes, how?
Sleep patterns do change with age, and you tend to sleep in different ways as you progress through life. As a new-born, you need sleep for 16-18 hours a day, and as you grow older, as a teenager, you need to sleep 10-12 hours. So, as a functioning adult, your sleep duration reduces. As you grow older, about six hours of sleep is good enough.
Is sleep linked to productivity?
If you have a crying baby at home that doesn't sleep very well, and you don't get enough sleep because the baby is waking up every two hours, are you going to be able to function well in the day? No!
That's what fragmented sleep does. It is the 'quality over quality' concept. If your brain doesn't get any rest, it won't get time to rejuvenate. This phenomenon not only affects your productivity, but it also makes you feel tired throughout the day. It also gives way to reduced attention span and increased irritability.
Can you share some tips on how to sleep more effectively?
Sleep as much as required to feel refreshed and healthy during the day, don't oversleep. Don't count your hours! Your body will find a way to tell you if you need more sleep or not. If you're having difficulty sleeping, always try and stick to a regular wake time in the morning.
For example: If you have to get to work by 9, and wake up by 7, don't try and push it to 7:30 saying I haven't got enough sleep. Wake up at 7, and if you feel tired throughout the day, automatically you'll sleep earlier through the night.
Exercise is of paramount importance. It is also known to give you better, deeper sleep. But it is necessary to avoid exercising at night!
Temperature is one of the most important factors because our body temperature drops when we fall asleep, especially in the middle of the night. So, you will find it's always simpler to sleep in a pleasant environment, rather than a heated one.
Make sure you eat enough instead of starving yourself -- which eventually wakes you up at night! If you have a sumptuous meal and you feel bloated, you feel uncomfortable, and you may have a bit of reflux which will, in turn, disturb your sleep.
Caffeine being tea, coffee, aerated drinks, Red Bull, all of these affect sleep directly. So, definitely nothing after 4 pm if you're having problems with sleep. Cigarette effects typically last approximately 14 minutes, so that's not going to help you sleep either!
So if you're having difficulty falling asleep, then you should avoid screen time at least two hours before bedtime. Screen time would include phone, tablets, and television, all of these because they all emit blue light. Blue light stimulates the back of the eye, which in turn stimulates the brain and doesn't allow you to sleep.
Sony BBC Earth recently experimented with a group of sleep-deprived people for 48 hours to find out exactly how lack of sleep affects our brains and bodies. This programme, crammed with counter-intuitive science, offers up answers to a question that's critical to our health and sees experts help people with sleep problems -- from snoring to night terrors. Discover the secrets to getting that restful night you've always wanted!
Tune in to the Science of Sleep: How to Sleep Better on 23rd November 8:00 pm on Sony BBC Earth