Sunday, August 30, 2015

Just switch it off and go to sleep

It’s largely a problem of the young, but age is no bar to more and more people giving up sleep to spend time with electronic gadgets at night. It’s unhealthy, unproductive, silly

The trend is widespread, alarming and plain nonsensical, to put it mildly — fidgeting with electronic gadgets late into the night at the cost of sleep. What follows is a gradual progression to sleeplessness and in due course, depression. Watching a movie at 3 am and chatting with friends simultaneously, playing a videogame at 2, surfing television channels late into the night — what are people, young and old, doing with electronic gadgets at such ungodly hours?
There was a time, not very long ago, when having dinner by 8 or 9 and going to bed soon after was the normal habit. Now, dinner close to midnight or later, and then getting active online has turned the natural sleep pattern upside down.
“People have become preoccupied and obsessed with round-the-clock TV, Internet and phones. This excessive use has had a devastating effect on their sleep pattern,” says Prof Savita Malhotra,Professor of Psychiatry, PGI, Chandigarh. 
“Six to eight hours of sleep is an absolute must for the human body. The very young require a little more than eight hours, the older ones may sleep a little less. It is during deep sleep that the internal system of the body does reparation and recoupment work. During sleep, the mind also consolidates memory. It ingrains what is necessary into the memory system of the brain. Those who are used to being online very late at night tend to suffer from forgetfulness.”
Because people sleep late, they wake up late, and then feel drowsy, lethargic and listless. “Children often miss school, and even if they go, they are not attentive. Among adults, lack of concentration is the cause of all sorts of accidents, absenteeism, low productivity, familial discord. It also has a devastating effect on their health. They become irritable, forgetful, angry, and suffer from anxiety and stress. When you sleep less, your body releases stress hormones. As a result, instead of letting your body repair and recover, you are actually subjecting yourself to additional stress,” warns Prof Malhotra.
What is this need to stay connected 24 hours a day? Experts say it gives a false sense of importance. Most calls and messages are not of much value — just unimportant conversation, and idle gossip.
Prof Malhotra says, “It reminds me of the catchline of a telecom company, Karlo duniya mutthi mein. The feeling that you have access to anyone, anytime, anywhere is intoxicating, gratifying, and gives a sense of empowerment. Because of this, people have become so addicted to gadgets that they are neglecting normal activities that are necessary for good mental and physical health. Relationships are suffering.”
The head of PGI’s Department of Neurology Prof Vivek Lal feels late nights “are wreaking havoc on this generation, which is totally unmindful of its consequences”.
“Sitting in the OPD, it pains me to see more and more young children coming with all sorts of problems unheard of before — abnormal aggression, severe headache, depression, abnormal weight both positive and negative, anxiety, and epilepsy. An overwhelming majority of these kids are slaves of technology, sitting up late in the night chatting or surfing.”
When people are advised to sleep early, most argue that they may be sleeping late, but they also wake up late, so the number of hours slept is practically the same. Is this argument sound?
Not at all, stresses Prof Malhotra. “The body has a natural biological clock, which is in sync with sunrise and sunset. This controls the internal hormonal system that is responsible for reparation and recuperation, and growth in the case of children. If this clock is disrupted, severe consequences follow. There is no substitute for a good night’s sleep.”
One of the main causes of sleeplessness is ‘cognitive stimulation’ before going to bed. When the brain is actively involved in something, its electrical activity increases and neurons begin to fire rapidly. This is fine during the day, but if neurons get very active before we go to bed, sleep is definitely going to elude us. When we play a videogame, for instance, before going to bed, or chat, or expect an email, the body becomes tense, and as a result, cortisol, a stress hormone produced by the adrenal gland, is released creating a condition that is detrimental to sleep.
Experts advise having a transition period, about half an hour of technology-free time before retiring for the day.
Prof Vivek Lal stresses that parents must switch off their gadgets and television sets by 10 pm. “In 50 per cent of cases, parents are directly or indirectly responsible for these technological indiscretions being carried out by their children. Children are immature, they have to be guided. Also, teachers have to be encouraged to drill into the head of students the importance of proper sleep hygiene.”
To sleep well, also set a regular time to go to bed. “You cannot sleep one day at 10, another at 2,” says Prof Malhotra. She sees a greater number of patients consulting her regarding insomnia. Many are getting tempted to taking pills. Because of this, the body is getting totally driven by chemicals.
“We know that this is happening in the IT sector and call centres. We advise sleep hygiene, that is, early to bed and early to rise. We do not recommend hypnotic sedatives and other drugs, because they are all habit forming. We also advise them to practise yoga and meditation.”
It’s a fairly simple choice in the end:  control the remote in your hand, or be controlled by it.

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