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Mystery Of Snoozing:SLEEP DISORDERS ON RISE,by Radhakrishna Rao,11 January 2008 Print E-mail


New Delhi, 11 January 2008

Mystery Of Snoozing


By  Radhakrishna Rao

The rapidly growing, upwardly mobile, cash rich Indian middle class obsessed as it is with the ambition to move up the ladder of success, is slowly falling prey to sleep disorders associated with stress and anxiety as well as long and irregular work schedules.

In particular, among those associated with the IT (Information Technology) and BPO (Business Process Outsourcing) industries where night shifts are quite common, are vulnerable to problems associated with sleep deprivation. No wonder then that many high profile corporate health centres in India are now setting up their own sleep laboratories to tackle the sleep disorders suffered by an increasing number of Indians.

According to the Head of the Department of Sleep Medicine at the New Delhi’s Ganga Ram Hospital, Dr.Manvir Bhatia, erratic lifestyles, stressful jobs and night shifts are the factors behind the increasing number of Indians experiencing sleep disorders. He drives home the point that in recent years there has been a substantial increase in the number of cases of sleep apnoea, insomnia, parasomnia and circadian rhythm disorders.

Significantly, circadian rhythm disorder, the latest in the long list of sleep disorders, is mainly caused by the hectic travelling across the time zones and night shifts. On the other hand, insomnia, that could affect the individuals on and off is mainly traceable to a stress and a radical change in lifestyle.

But far more pervasive is the problem of sleep apnoea characterized by loud snoring, increased day time sleep and personality disorders including irritability and hypertension. Obesity as well as medical conditions such as heart burn, alcoholism, old age and blocked nose are some of the possible causative factors for this fast growing sleep disorder .Sleep aponea also causes short duration breathlessness and in rare cases can also cause death.

According to a sleep medicine specialist, Dr.Kumaresh Krishnamoorthy, sleep aponea is defined as the cessation of breathing for ten seconds or more at least five times per hour of sleep. He highlights the fact that those suffering from sleep aponea feel that they did not get enough of sleep. Moreover, medical researchers say that sleep aponea could lead to high blood pressure, heart diseases and even stroke.

As it stands, researchers at the University of Chicago Medical Centre report that sleep deprivation damages the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar levels, potentially raising the risk of developing Type Two diabetes. Similarly, research studies go to show that decreased sleep could be a risk factor for weakening the immune system and mood swings. Dr.N.Ramakrishna of Nithra Institute of Sleep Sciences in Chennai says that sleep aponea though treatable is a lifetime disorder.

In fact, a path breaking study done at the University Of Pennsylvania School Of Medicine, states that sleep deprivation could increase the risk of cardio-vascular diseases. The study also has come to the conclusion that sleep deprivation built up over just five nights could significantly stress the heart. 

“If our findings are substantiated by further analysis, it may suggest that short sleep duration is associated with a heightened risk of cardio-vascular diseases and morbidity,” said a researcher associated with this study. It has also been found that night shift workers are at higher risk for cardio-vascular diseases due to the fact that they get less sleep on account of the disruption in the circadian rhythm.

In yet another study, researchers have found that extra sleep can help athletes perform well in games and sports. Investigators who tracked six men at Stanford University basket ball team found that the ball players were able to give better performance by getting as much extra sleep as possible. These athletes also reported improved energy and enhanced mood during game practices.

Notwithstanding the advances in medical sciences, many aspects of sleep continue to remain wrapped in mystery. But there is a broad consensus that sleep is vital for the physical and mental well being of an individual. Researchers also believe that sleep goes to enhance the creativity and productivity of an individual. “We conclude that sleep by restructuring new memory representations facilitates extraction of experimental knowledge and insightful behavior” says a team of scientists from the University of Luebeck.

Though the researchers hold the view that the brain benefits from a good night’s sleep, there is so far no consensus on the nature and extent of the benefits stemming from sleep. There are dime a dozen theories explaining the importance of sleep. While one theory says that sleep enables the brain to review and consolidate all streams of information it collects while awake, another suggests that one needs to sleep to detoxify the system.

Yet another theory points out that sleep operates in some mysterious ways to help one master and perfect various skills. The most widely accepted theory about sleep states that during sleep, cells work overtime, repairing the tissues and the organs and bolstering the immune system of the body. On another front, researchers have also established that the timing of the heart beat becomes more regular when one is asleep.

All said and done, researchers are frank enough to admit that they still don’t know the ideal amount of sleep needed to keep the brain in good condition. “There is this enormous commercial push  now to convince  people that if they don’t get eight hours of sleep a night, there is something wrong with them” say a researcher.

Sleep specialists are clear in their perception that a psychological link exists between mental illness and sleep disorders .Although sleeping pills give temporary relief with regard to sleep related disorders, researchers say that they can interfere with the restoration of functions that take place during sleep.

It is also believed that most of the powerful sleep inducing drugs have side effects. But there is no disputing the observation of the English bard William Shakespeare that sleep is the “chief nourisher of the life”.

An individual is known to spend as much as third of his life in sleep. The duration of sleep varies with age. Thus a new born infant spends most of its time sleeping. This decreases steadily and reaches 18 hours within the first six months. Around one year, it decreases further to 13 hours and by the time the child is three years old, it drops to 10 hours. From the biological standpoint, sleeping is considered a state of semi-consciousness as all the bodily functions continue to proceed on a vastly reduced scale. ---- INFA

(Copyright India News & Feature Alliance)

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