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Good Night, Sleep Right

What constitutes ‘healthy sleep’, why is it so important and what are the things that come in its way? Giving you the exact lowdown

Dr Debanjan Banerjee   |   Published 06.10.21, 12:35 AM

Sleep is one of the most primitive requirements of life. Numerous studies and long-drawn research have simplified some aspects of its function and nature, though a lot of it yet remains elusive.

The body rests during sleep and restores its energy and functions. The energy consumption by various organs are minimal and the brain conserves its nerve cells and connections to be active again when awake. Adequate quantity and quality of sleep determine our daily schedule, activity levels, attention, memory, learning and even our life span. The body clock regulates the circadian rhythm — which is necessary for all the physiological processes in the body. And that, in turn, depends on a good night-time sleep.


In fact, every single function of the human body depends on good sleep, and sleep deprivation or restriction can have a myriad of short-term and long-term harmful effects on the body and mind.

In the recent days of globalisation, competition and stress-laden lifestyle, technology has carved into our lives like a double-edged sword. A negative consequence of which is our natural sleep duration being deliberately compromised by external demands of work and leisure.

It is very important to stress the fact that “healthy” sleep does not depend on any particular duration or environment. It is not just the absence of insomnia or other sleep-related disorders. It basically means the natural pattern of sleep that our body holds for us at night, without being interfered with in the long-term. As the epidemic of “sleeplessness” rises, we get plagued by a multitude of sleep-related myths and misinformation that further add to the burden, leading to increased and harmful use of over-the-counter sleeping pills.

Let’s address some of these myths.

Myth: A certain amount of sleep is necessary daily.

Reality: On an average, a healthy human needs six to eight hours of sleep every day, preferably at night. However, these figures vary and it is best to follow the natural, individualised pattern rather than striving to develop any set patterns of sleep.

Myth: Read, listen to music or have a drink before going to bed.

Reality: All these activities stimulate the brain and impair the quality of sleep. Any drink (alcoholic or non-alcoholic) can disturb sleep. Ensure a gap of an hour between dinner and bedtime and a light walk post-dinner and before bedtime.

Myth: Try and try until you succeed.

Reality: Sleep is not a fight. If you are in bed and unable to sleep, get up, distract yourself, empty your bladder and retire again. Similarly if you have got up really early, do not forcibly try to sleep till late. The next night your body will compensate naturally.

Myth: Use phones/tabs/ laptops to fall asleep.

Reality: Resorting to technology might appear to be the easiest solution to treat insomnia but it is not. When you are awake, you feel the need to check your device, which in turn sets your brain into a continuous alert mode resulting in chronic anxiety, restlessness and sleep disturbance.

Myth: If you are not able to sleep, try sedatives or alcohol.

Reality: Any kind of sedative medication, without prescription, might get you sleep for a few days but eventually can be habit-forming, addictive with more and more doses needed to get the desired result. It can lead to a whole lot of side effects, long-term damage to the kidney and liver and often sleep tends to be totally dependent on them. The same holds true for any alcoholic beverage, if used solely for sleep.

Myth: The elderly should sleep more and better.

Reality: The elderly have more fragmented sleep and poor sleep quality. They tend to sleep early in the evening and wake up early. Also, napping is common. This is the normal ageing pattern and does not need any treatment. Sleep inducing medications should be maximally restricted for them unless the doctor examines and prescribes them for a reason. Constipation, pain, prostrate problems and uncontrolled diabetes may also contribute to sleep problems in older people.

Sleep improves quality of life, immunity and helps us battle stress. Understanding these myths will surely help us get a sound sleep for a healthy life.

The writer is a geriatric psychiatrist based in Calcutta and a member of the International Psychogeriatric Association

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