Waking up to sleep

By: | Updated: May 22, 2016 9:06 AM

We are sleeping lesser and lesser these days. ironically, even as the distractions grow, never has the business of dreams been bigger. From Apple to apps, from hotels to clinics, the promise of a good night’s sleep is a serious one

AT A trial session attended out of curiosity, where people are taught “how to live their lives”, the instructor dimmed the lights after a few rounds of yoga and asked people to relax. “Let go” was the persistent command. It was late evening, and coming straight from work, I lay down on the mattress and almost dozed off. It struck me then that if “letting go” was the real takeaway, I achieved that well with a solid eight hours of sleep.

In her latest book, The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time, Ariana Huffington also recommends that there’s no  better way to let go than sleep. Quoting author Ray Bradbury, she writes: “Learning to let go should be learned before learning to get”, adding that “surrendering to sleep every night is the ultimate letting-go”.

But achieving a sound sleep has never been more difficult than the present times. Even if we recognise the import of a sound sleep and even if we feel the impact of sleep deprivation, our lifestyles make it difficult to achieve a good night’s rest. The main culprits are the many screens we are surrounded with. If the TV and the smartphone were not enough, tech companies are making it difficult for us to let go of devices. Reading in bed is now done on a screen; we even wear our devices in the form of smartwatches. And, of course, there is always that last email to be checked or that last message to respond to or that last status to be updated before closing your eyes. Just check your social media accounts and you will see that people are most active at night. Where’s the time to sleep?

So when Apple, ironically, added the ‘Night Shift’ feature in its latest software update, which dims the blue light emitted by the screen, it was met with more scepticism than relief. The blue light, which is naturally emitted only by the sun, is believed to mess with circadian rhythms, thus affecting sleep.

Television, tablet and phone screens, plus LED lights, all emit this light that prevents the formation of melatonin, the hormone that helps us sleep.

Night Shift mimics daylight by slowly changing the display colour to the warmer end of the spectrum. While many reviewers have welcomed the launch, doctors warn that the attention-grabbing properties of a smartphone are bigger disruptors of sleep, and tricks like dim light are of little use.

But Apple is not the only one waking up to the sleep revolution. The business of sleep is a serious one these days.

And, ironically, as we sleep lesser, companies are finding a bigger opportunity in the business of dreams. There are specialised clinics that promote good sleep and there are sleep doctors as well. India has about 300 special sleep clinics today, while the US has over 2,500 accredited sleep centres.  From obvious aids like special mattresses and pillows that promote good sleep, products like special oils and teas are readily available to help you doze off faster.

With as many products that aid sleep as there are distractions preventing you from hitting the sack, it’s for you to make a choice.

The hospitality industry is even bigger on the business of sleep, with many brands realising that the best service they can offer their guests is a good night’s rest. International hotel brands like The Westin take things further with what they aptly call the Heavenly Bed, a 10-layer massive contraption of just the right kind of mattress, sheets and layers that guarantee a solid sleep. The bed is even available for homes, and though making it requires special training, it is quite popular. Home-grown chains like the ITC have special sleep kits, pillows and even vacuum-insulated windows, sensor lighting and single master switches that allow their guests to rest well. An extensive pillow menu is the least a decent hotel will offer.

In a huge shift of attitude, there are many organisations that encourage their employees to take small naps while at work. This is especially true for many IT companies that work odd hours. Sleeping on the job is no longer taboo!
Why sleep

“A deep sleep is important for the metabolic control of the body. All our systems, be it digestive or cardiovascular, or our abilities, be it cognitive or behavioural, benefit with good sleep,” says Dr Garima Shukla, professor in the neurology department of All India Institute of Medical Sciences (Aiims), New Delhi, adding, “Sleep is a big rejuvenator; it recharges all our body systems.”

A member of the International Liaison Committee of the World Sleep Society, she, however, points out that it is not just the duration of sleep that matters, but quality too. A disturbed night in bed will do you no good even if you lie there for more than 10 hours. One good stretch of at least six-seven hours is needed. Lack of sleep obviously deprives a person of getting recharged; it also leads to irritability, fatigue, attention problems and might even lead to accidents. She tells us that the world is sleeping a full one hour less than what it did a decade back.

What people need to realise is that just as we need food and exercise to survive and remain healthy, we need sleep to live. The resolve to sleep adequately has to become integral to our lifestyle. We have to wake up to this fact.3

What disrupts sleep
* Too many distractions
* Too little time, too much to do
* Work, study, relationship pressures
* Bright lights and noise
* Multiple screens of phones, tablets, e-readers, TV, etc
* Too much entertainment that keeps the mind active
* Overuse of alcohol and caffeine that interferes in sleep
* Big, heavy meals at night that the body finds difficult to digest
* Spicy foods, especially if you have acid reflux
* A sedentary lifestyle

How to sleep better
* Have a regular sleep routine
* Eat two-three hours before bedtime
* Avoid caffeine and alcohol in evening
* Don’t take a shower or indulge in physical activity one hour before bedtime
* Keep cells and watches away
* Shut down devices that emit blue light
* Exercise regularly
* Empty your mind, relax
* Hot beverages like chamomile or lavender tea, milk help
* Wear comfortable clothes used only for sleeping
* Set an alarm for work days


Many people who sleep fitfully at night try and make up for the lost sleep through short naps throughout the day. They may feel slightly refreshed, but making naps a regular replacement for a deep, regular sleep is not a healthy habit. AIIMS neurologist Dr Garima Shukla, also a sleep expert, warns that naps do not recharge a body as a full night’s sleep will. She says we need all stages of the sleep cycle for the body to feel the effects of sleep, and only a minimum of five-six hours can give you that. A nap helps only occasionally and is not recommended as a replacement for a  full night’s rest

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