How Sleep Problems Are Slowly Making Way For Insomnia Epidemic

How Sleep Problems Are Slowly Making Way For Insomnia Epidemic

We speak to a cross-section of insomnia sufferers and a couple of experts to find out more

Dinesh RahejaUpdated: Saturday, February 17, 2024, 08:42 PM IST
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Pics: Freepik

As people try to keep abreast of the frenzied pace of contemporary life and its many anxieties and distracting gadgets, sleep becomes elusive. An increasing number of folk are finding it difficult to locate that relaxed state of mind which facilitates a good night’s sleep. We speak to a cross-section of insomnia sufferers and a couple of experts to find out more.

It is 3 am and technical writer Ravi Rajani is in bed, staring at the ceiling and listening to the hum of the air-conditioner amplified by the dead quiet of the night. Sleep stubbornly refuses to envelop him in its arms. He has tried counting sheep jumping over stiles till both the animals and he felt exhausted, attempted listening to soothing music, and even becoming a self-taught nocturnal chef... but all to no avail. The previous week, after he had finally fallen asleep with a glass in his hand, his wife threatened to start using paper cups. So he carefully places his half-full glass back on the bedside table and checks the time. It’s 3.10 and sleep is still a distant dream.

Sleeplessness is not just in Seattle anymore ... insomnia is an increasingly common modern-day malaise. Shalet Fernandes, a clinical psychologist and psychotherapist, says, “Roughly, one in five adults worldwide exhibit some symptoms, and about 10 per cent of adults meet the criteria for insomnia disorder. From what I have read, over 60 per cent of Mumbaikars have issues with sleep, and the GISS report quotes that nearly 35 per cent have fallen prey to insomnia.”

The doctor’s own experiences seem to corroborate the prevalence of sleep debt. “Among my clients across different age groups, and this includes older school-going children, a midnight bedtime has become the new normal, which is quite an alarming trend. Insomnia is a disorder of hyperarousal during both night and day, and poor quality sleep results in daytime tiredness, irritability, lack of focus leading to delayed responses and mood disruptions.”

This widespread sleep deficit is doing no healthy favours even to those still young. Baritone-voiced actor, Amitabh Bhattacharjee, is currently busy with the daily Bengali soap Tomader Rani and his ready-for-release Bengali TV series, Badhua. He finds it difficult to nod off at night and ruefully reveals, “My insomnia started in the pandemic years circa 2020 and may have contributed to sugar spikes and hypertension.” But Amitabh refuses to reach out for the sleeping pill and is slowly building back a healthy sleep rhythm.

Another night owl, Kiran Gupta, a tarot master and healer, has gracefully accepted insomnia as a part of her life after dealing with it for the past 14 years. Kiran lost her sleep after she lost her parents, and says she once stayed awake without respite for five days and nights at a stretch. But she gamely soldiers on. “I pop a sleeping pill or call up my friend who prays at the gurdwara every dawn or just pack my bags and fly off to Delhi to be with a friend.”

Stress is a significant trigger that sparks off sleepless nights. Author Nandita Puri says that she suffered a recent tryst with insomnia after the death of her husband, actor Om Puri. She adds, “Ironically, it was my marriage to Om in May 1993 that had put my longstanding bouts of insomnia to sleep earlier.” Not one to procrastinate, Nandita reached out to the Thane-based physiotherapist Diana Pinto. Acupressure combined with a few sittings of acupuncture has helped her return to the comfort of sleep.

A cure is the holy grail for most insomniacs tired of tossing and turning in bed. In the popular fable, a beautiful princess is unable to sleep because there is a solitary pea stuck below the mattress. You have to find the pea to figure out an insomnia solution that works specifically for you.

Dr Fernandes offers hope. She says, “Acute and transient insomnia is frequently triggered by external stressors and is likely to resolve itself when the person adjusts to stressful events or the events are resolved. Chronic insomnia is usually a result of stress in addition to medical comorbidities and requires individualised treatment with medicine.”

She doesn’t discount the role of sleeping tablets but points out, “When alternate methods like lifestyle changes, exercise, CBT, Pranayam, meditation soothing music, prayer and a relaxing bedtime routine are ineffective alone, short-term medications in the lowest effective dose along with these methods do help in restoring disturbed sleeping patterns.”

Sarita Prashant, a senior yoga teacher, urges the addressing of poor emotional health and says, “Before your sleeping time, choose restorative yoga with gentle body postures besides breathing techniques. I would suggest Balasana in which there is a sufficient amount of blood flow to the head which quietens the mind. Reclined Bhadrasana and Viprit Karni are also very good for inducing sleep as are relaxation techniques like Yog Nidra in which you are focusing upon the natural breathing without trying to prolong it and Shavasana in which you focus on the various body parts and that helps to slow down the breath.”

She candidly reveals, “I too suffered from insomnia for some time because of an emotional setback in my life, and the technique which helped me is Anulom Vilom Pranayama. I would chant the Mahamrityunjay mantra but one can choose any mantra. This quietened my mind and I was able to cure myself without any external medication.”

The yoga teacher stresses practising mindfulness. She concludes, “Judgement-free awareness of the moment — not the past or future — helps good quality, rejuvenating sleep.”

(Before starting any practice, it is advisable to consult your medical practitioner)

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