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How Indians can better their sleep

A recent study, conducted by global sleep brand ResMed, revealed that nearly 80% of all Indians aren't sleeping well 

Many Indians are sleep deprived 
Many Indians are sleep deprived  (Pexels)

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As a response to World Sleep Day last month, sleep brand ResMed did a survey about sleep habits and their impact on the well-being of respondents across the regions of Asia and Latin America, including India. The research revealed that of the 5004 Indian respondents surveyed suffered from insufficient sleep or poor sleep quality, with only 21% of total respondents waking up feeling refreshed in the morning. 

In an interview with Dr Sibasish Dey, Head, Medical Affairs, South Asia, ResMed, we explore the research findings in further detail and also investigate the causes of poor sleep quality in Indians. 

What are the causes of poor sleep quality in Indians? Are there any common behaviours observed in the research when it comes to sleep habits?

For Indians, the primary cause of poor sleep quality is unawareness of good sleep hygiene. Sleeping is an integral part of our body functions, just like eating and exercising. Erratic schedules, irregular working hours, unhealthy lifestyles, and various health problems such as diabetes and cardiovascular diseases contribute to poor sleep quality. Interestingly, as per a 2022 sleep survey by ResMed indicated that Indians use mobile phones, eat food, and play video games right before sleeping, all of which hamper sleep quality. Over 55 per cent of Indians have also said they have trouble sleeping for at least three nights a week. Moreover, the research also shows that over 67 per cent of Indians believe that snoring is a sign of good sleep, proving a massive gap in sleep education in India. 

Another cause of poor sleep quality is sleep disorders such as Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS), and Narcolepsy, to name a few. Disorders such as OSA disrupt sleep at night, causing the patient to wake up tired the next day. Long term effects include traffic accidents, decreased cognitive functioning, and increased cardiovascular disturbances. Increasing awareness amongst the masses around sleep testing, causes and consequences of sleep disorders are indispensable at this stage. 

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The third and, instead, the most crucial cause is the unavailability of sleep testing infrastructure in Indians. India hosts only about 500 sleep labs in a country with over 1.2 billion people. The unavailability of convenient resources for sleep testing causes people to turn ignorant toward their sleep habits and have a poor sleep cycle.

Why do people believe that snoring is a sign of good sleep? What is the basis for this myth in India?

Snoring being a sign of good sleep is just an age-old belief and not based on any research or evidence. However, the lack of sleep education and awareness in the country is why people still consider it a good sign. People who snore and simultaneously experience symptoms such as loss of productivity and daytime sleepiness may be at risk of sleep apnea and must get themselves checked for sleep disorders.

How does sleep help with building a good immune system?

Healthy sleep hygiene has tremendous benefits. It impacts mental and cardiovascular health, keeps diabetes and obesity under control, and improves the brain's cognitive performance. When we sleep, our body gets a chance to rest and recover, which is vital to enable our immune system to function at full strength. According to research at the University of Tübingen, Germany, good sleep improves the performance of T cells in the body. T cells are the type of cells that fight against intracellular pathogens, for example, virus-infected cells such as flu, HIV, and cancer cells. According to the research, people who sleep well have increased performance of T cells due to integrin activation than participants who don't. 

Another reason is the production of Growth Hormone (GH) in our bodies, which increases during sleep. GH helps build, maintain, and repair healthy tissues in the body. It is essential for growth, cell regeneration, and cell reproduction. Also, it plays a vital role in developing the immune system. GH may enhance the growth of the thymus gland, which is responsible for the production of immune cells called T cells, the mediator of cell-mediated immunity.

What are some of the symptoms of poor sleep quality?

Apart from snoring, a range of symptoms including fatigue, irritability, mood changes, anxiety, difficulty remembering and concentrating, and a reduced sex drive may indicate a poor sleep quality.

What measures can one take to improve their sleep quality apart from using eye masks and other products? Are there any healthy practices that one can do?

The first and the most critical measure to improve sleep quality is healthy sleep hygiene, including 7-8 hours of undisturbed sleep at night. One must also limit daytime naps as they hamper sleep at night. Power naps can be resorted to in case of occasional excessive daytime sleepiness. Additionally, one must be mindful of what they eat before sleeping; it is not advisable to go to bed too stuffed or hungry. Practices such as a hot water bath before bed and reduced blue light (light from mobile phones/tablets) exposure before bedtime can help in improving sleep quality. 

Practices that can help you sleep better:

  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol/tobacco consumption closer to bedtime
  • Increase light exposure during the day
  • Have a calm and composed environment in your bedroom
  • Include physical activity during the day

If you are experiencing symptoms such as snoring, loss of productivity, morning headaches, etc., consult a sleep specialist or take a home sleep test as soon as possible. 

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