Sleep thieves

Nab these common sleep thieves that rob you of sleep

Woman watching TV late at night

Sleep is more important than sex. It’s possible to channel the libidinal instinct and survive effectively. But you can’t make a habit of depriving yourself of sleep and hope to survive for long. Research says those who sleep badly live shorter lives. Anxiety, depression and stress are important, and we do our best to manage them. But it’s the other lesser known causes of sleep disturbances that make things ugly for us.

Lack of respect for the sleeping space

Ms Mehta had been struggling with insomnia for over six months. I too was perplexed since all her reports were normal and she faced no apparent stressors. Then one day she casually mentioned helping her children with studies, on the bed, and the mystery was solved.

Most of us are ignorant about the importance of respecting our sleeping spaces. The bed should be used strictly for two activities: sleep and sex. Any new activity done on the bed sends a new signal to the brain and confuses it. That’s what happened with Ms Mehta. When she went to bed to ‘sleep’, her brain said ‘study’ and associated it with alertness rather than rest. Within a few weeks of moving her ‘class’ away from her bed, she was able to sleep well.

Arguments before bedtime

The Nakhate couple had become irritable and restless. The couple had long discussions, which ended in fights and all this just before bedtime. Since a disturbed mind leads to a disturbed body, their sleep suffered.

I suggested them to discuss their issues early in the day and inculcate the habit of recalling one pleasant memory right before bed time. They had to relive those memories as vividly as possible engaging all six senses. The sixth sense is the ‘emotional’ feel of the memory. Beautiful memories can soothe the nerves and work like sedatives. Conscious relaxation exercises also neutralise negative states.

Late workouts

Being a busy executive Mr Malkani worked out late at night. What he got in return was sleepless nights. This is because exercise causes the brain to release chemicals that make you feel fresh. The same holds true if you go for an after-dinner brisk walk. Naturally, the option for Mr Malkani was to put at least a few hours between his exercise and bedtime.

Spicy food

I was served a delicious pickle at Mr Salian’s home one evening, which his mother had sent. His wife, however, joked that he was so excited about the pickle that since its arrival, he has lost his sleep. On probing further, I came to know that he suffered burning and hyperacidity after dinner. And this affected his sleep. For most us, dinner is the most indulgent meal of the day. And it affects the quality of our sleep. Skipping spicy and oily food at dinner is worth it.

Bed-time coffee

Ms Sherry just landed a job in a large media firm, which required her to attend off-site meetings, held mostly in a coffee shop, where she had several cups of coffee. This kept her up most nights. To get back her lost sleep, Sherry had to restrict to only two cups of coffee per day and that too before 6pm. Tea/coffee has this effect on many people.

Late-night TV/surfing

Bonita loved her night-time ritual of watching late-night soaps on her new plasma TV and chatting online with her son, who lived abroad. Soon she developed high blood pressure and took a long time falling asleep. I suggested that she go online in the morning and watch TV soaps in the afternoon. It worked, her sleep reverted to normal and her blood pressure too settled. Watching screens before sleeping can cause insomnia in many due to excessive stimulation of the brain.

Night calling

Mr Malhotra got a job paying 30 million rupees a year, but it required him to be available 24 X 7; he could never switch off his cell phone. At first, it seemed harmless but soon one call at night would ruin the whole night’s sleep and this disturbed his sleep. Within a few months he was diagnosed with diabetes.

But this is not just Mr Malhotra’s story, many executives sleep with their phones next to them. That’s a sure cause for disturbed sleep even if it does not ring. Having the phone next to you only reinforces the anticipation that it will ring, not to forget the electromagnetic radiation that interferes with sleep.

Uncomfortable space

The Ranade’s took the advice of their psychologist literally. The school psychologists had urged parents to hug their kids more often. The Ranade’s went a step further and got their kids to sleep with them, hugging them all night. Obviously, the bed wasn’t enough for all of them and this affected their sleep. Children should be gradually weaned away to sleep independently. Parents who are over-involved and critical at home with children lose their sleep.

Lengthy naps

Mr Lahane believed that eight hours of sleep is a must. He distributed it across two sessions as an experiment. As he wanted to work late at night on project proposals, he chose to take a long afternoon nap. His naps lasted 3 – 4 hours and soon he realised the detrimental affect it had on his night-time sleep. He also experienced a lot of exhaustion.

Mr Lahane didn’t realise that to maintain the architecture of sleep, the successive sessions of ‘dream sleep’ and ‘deep sleep’ are a must. Dividing sleep in two sessions is dangerous. This causes decrease in slow wave sleep that may result in dangerous consequences for the body.

Disturbing ambience

Aggarwals new apartment had centralised air conditioning. The children were happy but Mr Aggarwal just couldn’t sleep in the cool temperature. Temperature impacts people differently. So does sound. Though ideally a quiet cool environment is desirable, some may need noise and a warmer room. Improper ambience is a serious sleep wrecker.

This was first published in the June 2012 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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