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Do you get enough sleep?
Tanya Munshi
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December 21, 2006

Getting enough sleep to start a new day is not just about closing your eyes. Or dreaming. Or feeling refreshed in the morning.

When you sleep, your brain rests and recuperates.

An increasing number of people face stress-related problems because their hectic schedules deprive them of sleep.  

Sleep is irreplaceable in our lives.

"It's a state of unconsciousness when the brain is more responsive to internal, instead of external, stimuli. This means all your senses -- visual, auditory and others -- slow down; the brain becomes less responsive to them," says Prachi S Vaish, a practising psychologist with Ruby Hall Clinic, Pune.

How many hours of sleep do we need?

Vaish says, "An average person needs about eight to eight and a half hours of sleep in 24 hours."

For most of us, getting eight hours of sleep is a luxury. An ideal situation would probably be to sleep for six to six and a half hours during the night, and build on that with a one to two hour nap in the afternoon.

How sleep works

Have you ever noticed that, when a person is in deep sleep, his eyeballs move under his closed eyelids? "That is called Rapid Eye Movement or REM, where the person is in the deepest form of sleep and is dreaming," says Vaish.

When you lie down in bed with your eyes closed and slowly start drifting into sleep, you are entering NREM (non-REM) sleep. When you finally fall asleep, you've entered REM sleep.

An entire stretch of eight to nine hour sleep is made up of many cycles of NREM and REM sleep. The transition is so fast that we usually don't wake up between cycles. "If we sleep for fewer hours, this cycle gets disturbed. We will not enter the REM (cycle) and will not feel refreshed when we wake up," says Vaish. 

When you are facing a lot of stress, there is a possibility that your sleep cycle will remain limited to the NREM phase. "Too much stress prevents your brain from relaxing and slowing down. It will keep churning thoughts and this will stop it from progressing to REM sleep," explains Vaish.

Reasons for lack of sleep

~ Emotional issues
~ Excessive intake of caffeine
~ Too much stress/ worry
~ Heavy medication
~ Irregular/ long work hours

How lack of sleep affects us

Dr Harish S Belvi, a practising Mumbai-based ophthalmologist (a doctor specialising in eye care), says, "In most cases, lack of sleep causes dry eyes, redness and other forms of eye strain. But all this can be reduced if the person gets his/ her usual eight hours of sleep and a balanced diet."

Rahul Behel, 24, team leader in a Bangalore-based BPO, says, "Whenever we start with a change in shifts, I am initially a little disorientated, grumpy and irritated. But once I get used to the new timings, I are able to restore the balance between work and sleep and things gradually fall into place."

Vaish offers a list of common problems associated with lack of sleep:

~ Driver fatigue: The fewer hours of rest you get, the greater your chances are of being the cause of a car accident. "According to research studies, driving without sufficient rest is as detrimental as drunk driving," he says.

~ Sleep shortages quickly alter the body's ability to regulate glucose and produce insulin, mimicking the symptoms of impaired glucose tolerance, or diabetes. 

~ Can lead to heartburn and ulcers.

~ Can lead to hypothyroidism.

~ Can lead to chronic fatigue syndrome.

Lack of sleep can also affect your personal life. Productivity at work can drastically go down. Side by side, lack of sleep can have adverse effects on relationships.

"Lack of sleep and rest can drastically cuts down on your social life. Compared to a non-BPO professional, you could say it's a struggle to keep your personal life afloat," says Behel.

How to improve your sleep

Vaish suggests some basic and effective ways to boost your sleep power:

Rest according to a schedule

Go to bed and get up at the same time every day, including on weekends and vacation. By doing so, your circadian rhythm (internal clock) will not be disturbed.

Exercise

Regular exercise improves sleeping habits. Exercise between 20 to 30 minutes a day, but take care not to exercise within five hours of bedtime.

Don't lie awake

If you cannot fall asleep, don't lie in bed awake. Worrying about falling asleep actually keeps many people awake. Get up and do something else until you feel sleepy. For example, read something extremely boring; you'll feel sleepy in minutes.

Limit alcohol, nicotine, caffeine

Nicotine and caffeine are both stimulants, and should be avoided upto six hours before bedtime. Alcohol is a sedative and may appear to promote sleep. But, once the effect wears off, sleep patterns become erratic.

Eat and drink long before bedtime

A heavy meal before bed can cause indigestion, which can keep you up. Drinking fluids before going to bed can interrupt your rest if you need to go to the bathroom.

Try to avoid both food and fluids for at least two hours before bedtime. But a glass of warm milk or warm water with a teaspoon of honey can help if you're having trouble falling asleep.

Relax

Spending some 'down time' before bed can help you relax and sleep comes easier. Meditation, relaxation techniques and breathing techniques may all work. Relaxation could be as simple as a warm bath, or quiet reading.

Reserve your bedroom for two activities

Watching television, paying bills, reading a book and listening to music in the bedroom are not recommended. By doing so, you create the expectation that the bedroom is for activities other than resting. Your bedroom should be a place where you relax.

A word of caution

"Avoid sleeping pills; they disturb the chemical balances of the body and carry the risk of dependence," says Vaish.

Are you an eight-hour sleep type?

Every person is unique and so is his sleep pattern. Some people are known to be up and active with only four to five hours of sleep. Others need six to eight hours.

In case you are a four to five hour type, it is likely that the number of your NREM-REM cycles is less; that's all.

"For instance, if in eight hours of sleep there are four to five cycles, then in four to five hours of sleep there would probably be only three cycles" says Vaish.

The bottom line

Listen to your constitution. If you are ready to kick start your day after five hours of sound sleep, so be it. But don't ever compromise those five hours. Ensure you sleep well. Then, you are sure to have a nice day.

DON'T MISS!



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