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  • Raghav Sand

Sleep: More or Less

Getting the right amount of sleep is an underrated subject in modern life. There were enough issues for people to tackle prior to the pandemic, but the last year has impacted each one of us in more ways than we can comprehend. Not all of us have been at the receiving end of the disruption caused by lockdown guidelines and the blurring of lines between the professional and personal life. The world is more concerned about GDP and words like wellbeing are sprinkled for the sake of adding flavour to the conversation.

Academia, from kindergarten to post-graduation, has been shaken to the core. The impact to learning skills from this prolonged interruption will be felt in the years to come. Eating, defaecating and sleeping are biological processes which are essential, and beyond our control. These procedures are triggered by forces which have a clock of their own. Multiple research papers have established links between sleep and good health. Self-care is non-negotiable if you want to succeed in life and contribute towards the prosperity of your family and community.

Alarming Situation

People who suffer from chronic sleep deprivation are more likely to develop heart ailments, type 2 diabetes, asthma, and depression. Over and above the abovementioned symptoms, there is a higher risk of early death. Having a consistent bedtime routine has gained currency in the last decade, but the acceptance has to more widespread in order to make a lasting and measurable effect.

Prior to the pandemic, some were sleep deficient, while others were sleeping surplus to requirement. In the last twelve to fifteen months, there has been reversal in the fortunes of these two sets of people. The working and studying population made up for the lack of sleep during weekdays with weekend catch up sleep; this practice is not advisable, but it nevertheless had many takers.

Covid-19 brought longer working hours for desk job workers.

What is Keeping People Awake?

There is no one single reason that is affecting people’s sleep, rather there are many factors working in tandem, in varied degrees. Lack of physical activity and reduced access to daylight are at the top of the cause list. Increased exposure to screens and anxiety due to rising cases of Covid-19 have also taken a toll on sleep cycle. It will be extremely rare to find a person who doesn’t know someone who has tested positive for the virus. Many people have themselves fought with the virus or have lost a loved one. The helplessness and inability to find a solution to the problems that have overwhelmed us is adding fuel to the fire.

What is Circadian Rhythm?

Circadian rhythms are physical, mental, and behavioural changes that follow a 24-hour cycle. These natural processes respond primarily to light and dark and affect most living things, including animals, plants, and microbes. Chronobiology is the study of circadian rhythms. One example of a light-related circadian rhythm is sleeping at night and being awake during the day.

Circadian Rhythm. Courtesy: Nobel Prize Committee

Circadian rhythms can influence important functions in our bodies, such as:

  1. Hormone release

  2. Eating habits and digestion

  3. Body temperature

Most people notice the effect of circadian rhythms on their sleep patterns. The suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) controls the production of melatonin, a hormone that makes us sleepy. The SCN is in a part of the brain called the hypothalamus and receives direct input from the eyes. It receives information about incoming light from the optic nerves, which relay information from the eyes to the brain. When there is less light—for example, at night—the SCN tells the brain to make more melatonin so you get drowsy.

How to Reset Circadian Rhythm?

You may experience disruptions to your circadian rhythm, but you can get it back on track. Here are some tips for promoting a healthy 24-hour schedule:

  1. Have a consistent routine and follow it with discipline.

  2. Spend some time in natural light on a daily basis.

  3. Exercise daily for at least half an hour.

  4. Try to sleep on a supportive mattress and in a comfortable temperature.

  5. As far as possible, avoid alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine in the evenings.

  6. Power down your screens well before bedtime and try engaging in something, such as reading a book or meditating.

  7. Do not nap late in the afternoon or evening.

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