Eyes wide open

Eyes wide open

Unhealthy routine

Eyes wide open

Every night, before she falls asleep, Ahima Keshava, a student of St Joseph’s College, browses the internet to catch up on the news for the day. “I sometimes find the mobile phone buried under my sheets in the morning and it makes me panic when I can’t find it immediately,” she says.

This isn’t an isolated case — there are many people who suffer from nomophobia (no-mobile-phone phobia). Even in the night, they are glued to their phones, because of which an increasing number of technology users suffer from sleep deprivation and disturbed sleep patterns.

Dr Sudha Menon, Director of Internal Medicine, Fortis Hospital, says that this continuous exposure to artificial light makes the sleep cycle go haywire, which is unhealthy for people in the long run. “I recently had a patient, a 58-year-old woman, who suffered from disturbed sleep because she plays ‘Candy Crush’ for five hours before she falls asleep at night!” She explains that the pineal gland regulates the body clock and this is disturbed when the body is exposed to artificial light.

For the body rhythm to set, a person should have a fixed sleeping pattern, which many people don’t have these days. Sudha mentions that it is natural for the body to rest at night, but when exposed to mobile phones, televisions and computers, it goes on hyper-drive and refuses to sleep. “This is why people have disturbed and fractured sleep patterns.”

While many people lay importance on the number of hours a person sleeps for, Sudha says, “The quality of sleep is more important.”

Guruprasad, a senior aerodrome operator at Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, says that it has been a decade since he had a good night’s worth of sleep. Not only does he have disturbed nights, but he also takes hours to fall asleep. “Even if I’m dead tired, sleep eludes me.” But it’s not just technology that plays a part in fracturing his nightly rest.

“Before falling asleep, I look at the phone to watch the international markets. But I’m also not getting enough sleep because I get up at 5 am and come home only at 4 pm. I don’t take a nap in the evening thinking I won’t be able to sleep later on, in the night,” he says.

Incomplete sleep cycles and disturbed patterns take a toll on one’s health though they may not realise it now. Irritability, anger, lethargy, weight gain and more are the ill effects of sleep deprivation. A person’s productivity also declines, as Winona Laisram, an artist, explains, “It’s especially difficult to be productive if I need to think creatively. Coming up with good ideas is hard on a sleep-deprived brain.”

Along with technology, emotional and mental stress also make sure to keep sleep away. Punit Shrivastava, a professional, takes two to three hours to fall asleep. “There are a lot of things that go on in my mind before I sleep. I wake up after a few hours and have to make myself sleep again. And I usually dream about things that bother me,” he says.
There are many tricks people use to fall asleep as it doesn’t come naturally to them.

Winona, who experiences sleeplessness because of anxiety, says, “I’m always anxious and worried about things that normal people would probably not agonise over. When it gets really bad I put on a two-hour YouTube video of natural rain and thunder sounds. The calming effect helps me sleep better. Making the room or sheets smell nice also helps.”

But Sudha says that the best method is to give your brain the time to shut down. She advises people to stop giving continuous sensory simulation to the brain 20 minutes before they sleep. “Try reading a book or doing something that relaxes the mind,” she says.

Sleep patterns are also disturbed by fluctuating work shifts. But that doesn’t mean you can’t do a night shift. Sudha explains, “If a person is on a fixed night shift schedule, their body will adjust within 48 to 72 hours. The only thing is that they have to make sure they sleep in a dark room during the day. But it’s unhealthy if people have fluctuating shifts as their body won’t have enough time to adjust.”

So, while the amount of sleep you need might vary from person to person, it’s important to not resist sleep or stimulate brain activity during this time.