India has a sleep problem
Pallavi has over 5 years of experience in writing. Mental health and social issues are topics...
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Asma is a psychotherapist, and Co-Founder at Reflective Conversations. She is also associated...
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Indians have not been sleeping enough and the stats are worrying. A study conducted by the Department of Life Sciences, University of Mumbai, found that 61% of Indians sleep less than 7 hours a day and 64% wake up before 7 a.m., the highest in the world.
A recent study titled ‘The Global Pursuit of Better Sleep Health’ officially confirms that Indians sleep less than ever – 7 hours 1 minute on average, second only to Japan, the most sleep-deprived nation at 6 hours 47 minutes.
Last year, Wakefit released the Great Indian Sleep Scorecard (GISS). With more than 200,000 responses collected over five years, the scorecard found that one in four Indians surveyed worried they have sleep insomnia.
India is in sleep debt. A problem that needs to be tackled at the forefront and with immediate effect.
Why do we need good sleep hygiene?
Sound and adequate sleep directly impact our mental, physical, and social well-being. Matthew Walker, Scientific Advisor at SleepFoundation.org, says, “Sleep is the most effective thing you can do to reset the health of your brain and body.”
Although research on this differs, most sleep studies have found that adults require about 7-9 hours of sleep. The amount of sleep you require mostly depends on your age, although other factors, such as stress and hormones, also have a role to play.
A good night’s sleep aids in recovery, helping the body remain healthy, and plays a significant role in our health and well-being. For the brain, adequate sleep acts as a tonic, improving memory, concentration, and flow of ideas.
Manohar Grandhi, a sleep coach and software engineer and author of the book My Sleepless Nights, says, “When we are sleeping, the parasympathetic nervous system is activated. This is known as the rest and digest system. This creates new cells and tissues that are needed for vital survival. When the balance between both the nervous systems is maintained, the body is in harmony, and the chances of diseases are low.”
A study in the Indian Journal of Sleep Medicine says that when we sleep for fewer hours, we feel drowsy and less creative. Our brain functions at 80% of its capacity. Sleep deprivation also significantly affects our memory span, decision-making, social cognition, and verbal learning.
Studies point out that the cumulative impact of sleep deprivation can lead to increased risks of hypertension, diabetes, obesity, heart attack, and other health-related issues.
An NCBI study shows a deep correlation between mental health and sleep deprivation. Sleep deficiency in adolescents and young adults can lead to tension, irritability, negative moods, and nervousness. In the long term, it can trigger mental health issues like depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, etc.
Asma Ansari, a psychotherapist, and co-founder of Reflective Conversations, opines, “Over 500 years ago, William Shakespeare used an interesting metaphor for sleep— nature’s soft nurse in King Henry’s Soliloquy—where King Henry suffers a great deal of emotional distress due to sleeplessness. In my work as a therapist, I always ask my clients how they are sleeping. And many times, I see this two-way relationship between sleep patterns/habits and the presenting concerns pertaining to emotional health. It may be hard to discern which leads to the other, but both seem to point at each other.”
Why are Indians sleeping less?
Technology is one of the biggest factors. As more Indians get online, the use of smartphones has become ubiquitous. In 2020, India had more than 650 million smartphone users. The Wakefit study showed that more than 54% of Indians sleep past 11 pm, and 88% of those surveyed admitted to using their phones just before bedtime. The blue light from smartphone screens hampers the production of melatonin, a hormone that regulates your circadian cycle.
Serene Sarah George from Reflective Conversations says, “With working from our bedrooms almost becoming a norm, boundaries between workplace and personal space have blurred for many of us, and this spillover seems to be impacting the quality of sleep even more. While sleep hygiene almost seems like a privilege or luxury now, our sleep debt balances keep building up, and packed weekends do not seem to help at times to recoup fully.”
Dr. Sameer Kubba, an interventional cardiologist and associate director at Max Hospital in Vaishali, Ghaziabad, agrees. “Increased use of social media platforms, TV watching, and use of computers are keeping people awake well into the night. Even when they hit the bed, they fail to get proper sleep.”
Work culture is another culprit – remote work led to blurred boundaries between work and home. Long working hours and stress result in prolonged sleep deprivation. Asma elaborates on this:
“Sleep is also about slowing down, and quite often from a fast-paced day in the context of the modern world. Putting a stimulated day to rest and transitioning to doing nothing, but relaxing, may seem counterintuitive and a difficult chore to many. All the more, when our devices are always within reach, ready to act as ‘instant pacifiers for a mind that doesn’t want to slow down.”
And India’s economic growth has come with its own pitfalls. As India rapidly urbanizes, cities become more crowded, and noise and air pollution levels are increasing.
Studies have shown that exposure to noise pollution can cause sleep disturbance, leading to insomnia and other sleep disorders. Air pollution can also cause respiratory problems, which can affect sleep quality. The sleep environment can play a role, too: temperature and lighting can also affect sleep.
Diet and nutrition can also affect our sleep patterns and sleep quality. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that a high carbohydrate diet is associated with poor sleep quality.
What’s the solution to India’s sleep woes?
When we fail to recognize our sleep issues, we preclude the possibility of its diagnosis and treatment, and also its consequences in impacting public health. When we are aware of the negative impact of less sleep, we will be careful to have enough sleep.
“Building a night-time routine before going to bed is a habit worth nurturing, and with some practice, relaxation techniques can also help train your body to relax with less time. Having said that, underlying issues need to be addressed too – whether it is anxious and negative thoughts that are keeping us up or if there are any physical health concerns or sleep disorders that need treatment,” explains Serene.
Things we can implement
Develop a sleep routine: Go to bed at the same time every day, and do not sleep in on weekends.
Create a sleep-conducive environment: Maintain an ideal temperature that’s not too hot or cold, if possible. Eliminate bright lights before sleep and try to use eye masks or headphones to drown out outside noise. And, of course, keep that phone away.
Get morning sunlight: Top-rated American neuroscientist, Andrew Huberman, gives this hack to optimize melatonin production – get 10 minutes of morning sunlight in the first 90 minutes after waking up.
Limit stimulants: Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine before bedtime, as they interfere with sleep quality. Caffeine is a stimulant that can keep people awake, while alcohol and nicotine can disrupt the sleep-wake cycle.
Manage your stress: Yoga, meditation, and mindfulness practices are all helpful in mitigating the harmful effects of chronic stress. Exercise is also known to improve sleep quality.
Maintain a balanced diet: Avoid eating large meals just before bedtime, and make sure that you are getting adequate protein in each meal.
And if you have tried all hacks and still struggle with sleep, get in touch with a sleep expert.
Professional sleep coaching can tackle any underlying issues, for example, sleep apnea, which can dramatically impact sleep. Not yet ready to face a doctor? Apps like Neend, Sleep Cycle, Calm, and Headspace can help too.
At the policy level, government and health associations must develop strategies and conduct studies to discover the implications of undiagnosed and diagnosed sleep issues and disorders on the populace. Also, doctors and medical practitioners need to make sleep a part of the general diagnosis and encourage patients to open up about the same.
It’s high time we normalized guilt-free, healthy sleeping habits and made sleep a priority and not a luxury.
Pubertal changes in daytime sleepiness
Impact of chronic sleep deprivation in Indian population
Extent and health consequences of chronic sleep loss