The Circadian Rhythm which is a daily cycle of sleepiness and wakefulness is built into our systems so that activity alternates with periods of rest and relaxation. An adult requires about 8 hours of sleep, and children need 10 hours. Teenagers too need 8-10 hours of deep sleep. But as the body ages and body processes slow, the need for long hours of sleep reduces. Those above 65 need shorter hours of sleep. Those who practice deep relaxation exercises also need less sleep.
However, millions of people around the world suffer from Insomnia. It is said that we sleep about 20% less than previous generations because we have too many things to do – work, family, sports, hobbies, TV and internet surfing. About 30% of people suffer from occasional insomnia. But about 10% are chronic insomniacs. Women are about 1.3 times more prone to sleeplessness, usually before or at the onset of periods, or during pregnancy or menopause.
Insomnia is the inability to get sufficient sleep. It may be difficulty in falling asleep, or disturbed sleep with multiple episodes of wakefulness or fewer hours of sleep. Sleep begins with a state of semi-wakefulness, then passes on to light sleep or a state of dreaming characterized by rapid eye movements (REM.) Finally deep sleep (Delta Sleep) occurs from which the expression ‘dead to the world’ is derived.
In most cases, Insomnia is treatable. So it is important to find the cause rather than reach for the medicine bottle. Drugs bring only temporary relief and not a cure. They cause dependence, and with time, higher doses may be required.
What happens when we sleep?
In the first hours, the Pituitary gland releases large amounts of growth hormone to restore and rebuild body tissues. Metabolism drops by 25% below day time levels. Body temperature drops by 15 degrees. During the dreamy state the body is so relaxed that we cannot get up and act out our dreams. Melatonin the sleep hormone rises through the night and gradually decreases at dawn when Cortisol the waking hormone, takes over.
Causes of Insomnia
Insomnia is usually temporary, lasting for a few days.
• Tension at work, loss of job, quarrels, bereavement, accidents, frequent night shifts are disturbing and can make one stay awake.
• Wrong diet. Increase in coffee intake especially in the evenings or night; Too much of sweet or starchy food at night leads to high blood sugar. Glucose fuels the brain instead of slowing it down; Salt stimulates the nervous system. So perhaps too much of pickles may not be good at night; Spicy food causes digestive disturbances. Sleeping on a full stomach will give a person a restless night.
• Medical illnesses like asthma, migraine, severe cold with nasal congestion, restless leg syndrome, pain in any part of the body.
• Excessive medication or substance abuse, nicotine, alcohol or appetite suppressors.
• Psychiatric illnesses like mood and anxiety disturbances
• People who suffer from nightmares especially children, dread going to sleep.
Chronic Insomnia (sleeplessness more than three weeks) is usually due to medical conditions like asthma, heart disease, urinary infections, arthritis or enlarged prostates in men.If sleeplessness affects your day time functioning, it is a wake up call to warn you that you aren’t leading a healthy life.
Effects of Insomnia
1. Fatigue. The person feels drowsy and lazy during the day and wants to sleep, to make up for the sleep deficit. A sleep deprived person is prone to “micro sleeps” – lapses of consciousness which last a few seconds, of which the person is not aware. This is like falling asleep with the eyes open.
2. Accident prone while driving or doing specialized jobs, mistakes at work, breakages or misplacing things.
3. Cognitive skills and physical performance is low. Accuracy of arithmetic calculations is decreased.
4. Irritability or restlessness and inability to concentrate.
5. Susceptibility to infections due to decreased immunity.
6. Prolonged insomnia may lead to mood disorders.
7. Insomnia in children results in poor memory, bad temper and inattentiveness.