Over 70% of people in urban areas suffer from sleep deprivation and that number is growing. Personally, I feel that the problem is less understood than you think. What is insomnia? Scientists say that if you sleep for less than 5 hours per day, for more than 3 nights a week, you are likely to be suffering from insomnia. Your daytime performance, concentration, memory, comprehension, moods etc. are all affected by the lack of sleep. I divide insomnia into two main categories: those who can’t sleep because of an organic psychological condition (bipolar,
schizophrenia, clinical depression etc.) and those who can’t sleep due to stress, over exertion, symptomatic depression, chronic fatigue syndrome, habitual mind-set, night shifts etc.
If you go to a psychiatric ward, you’ll very often see patients wandering about at night, if they are not heavily drugged of course, until the wee hours of the morning, when they slump into their beds. Many in the ward will not sleep, day or night because of the mental illness. That’s what I call the real insomnia because there is a problem with sleep. Doctors will have to give sleeping pills to manage that.
Most people suffer from what I call “jet lag sleep”. They are tired during the day, when they should be alert and awake at night, when they should be sleeping. As if the day- night cycle is reversed. They yawn during the day, doze off in front of the computers or while working/ driving etc. and toss in bed, count stars, watch TV or listen to relaxation music, pace up and down the house etc. It’s a clear reversal of the diurnal cycle, probably due to excess cortisol ( day/stress hormone) and low melatonin ( night hormone) which is responsible for rest and repose, night time repair of tissues, regeneration, removal of fatigue etc.
I know there will be criticism from the Sleep Specialists who carry out studies with EEG (electronic brainwave recording) and link it to sleep apnoea, impairment of the breathing cycle etc. These studies can’t explain why most people with sleep disturbances, wake up exactly (by time!) at 4 am as if on cue. Why such an accurate alarm is set in the brain? One reason, I think, is that at 4 am, the adrenal glands begin to secrete cortisol, in preparation for waking up. The cortisol triggers off a chain reaction, causing the heart rate to go up, the mind to be fully alert, the
muscle tone to increase, the breathing to be more regular, the body temperature to rise ( remember the use of thermometer to check ovulation in the early hours of the morning? ) etc. It is like a menopausal woman’s “hot flush” when a minuscule amount of estragon is released in the blood from the ovaries causing palpitation, hot sweats, anxiety etc. So at 4am sharp, you feel absolutely alert and ready to go, but the irony is that you go back to sleep again and the second time around, you really feel tired when you wake up. This is the pattern, every day of your life,
especially if you are stressed and you are ” hyposensitised” to cortisol, the stress / day hormone.
Of course there are other factors that cause insomnia. If you drink heavily, you go to sleep alright but 2-3 hours later, you are wide awake, often with a bit of palpitation. That’s because you are very dehydrated and the blood is more viscous, which rings alarm bells in the brain. Drink some water immediately and the condition is likely to improve, restoring sleep. Eating heavy meals and late, cause discomfort in the abdomen as none of the food mass will ever get digested so it simply won’t move down the alimentary canal. Walking after dinner or eating supper by 7 pm is a good way of overcoming this problem. Drinking excess coffee, consuming excess salt or sugar, taking recreational drugs etc. will agitate the brain so you must be careful about these substances. Your bedroom should be clear of electronic gadgets as they do emit waves that may agitate the brain. Keep the window open to allow some fresh air in. At night your thermostat in the brain is switched off, to give it some rest. When that happens, you may get hot and sweaty under the blanket and if there are two of you underneath that, then it gets even warmer. Its best that couples use separate blankets, if one or both of you have sleep disturbances. Drink some water before you go to bed and when you wake up either go to the restroom.
Those who have sleep disturbances, should self- massage the neck or swap the same with your partner just before you go to bed for a few minutes. My book The Neck Connection explains that. The improved blood and fluid supply to the brain not only helps the Melatonin secretion from the Pineal Gland but also creates a sensation of relaxation. A few cycles of yoga (cobra,
bridge, swing, head rolls etc.) at bedtime will help to do the same. Therapeutic neck massage, meditation, acupuncture, homeopathy and herbal supplements are helpful. Don’t give up if a few sessions don’t show immediate results. A chronic problem needs time to heal. Here is a true story: a friend of mine, who was The President of a major brand had the habit of taking a sleeping tablet before taking off. Once, on his way to Beijing, he took the tablet as usual. There was a technical problem and plane returned to the terminal but he was fast asleep. The flight was cancelled but the cabin crew failed to wake him up. Next morning he found himself in the hospital. He thought he was sick in a Beijing Hospital.
There is a condition called Sleep Apnoea. I will write a piece on that for you someday, so watch this space. My understanding of it varies from that explained by medical science, but it’s based on logic and observation.