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Stuck on snooze

Many youngsters are catching up on sleep in short snatches, some even with the help of pills. Gen Y struggles to fit work, leisure and a social life into 24 hours, reports Sumegha Gulati.

delhi Updated: Jan 02, 2010 23:59 IST
Sumegha Gulati

Sumit Sethi, (26), has what he calls ‘sleep hangovers’. Working up to 20 hours a day as a disc jockey at posh nightclubs, he says he loves the buzz of squeezing the most out of every moment. But every so often, he admits, he gets so exhausted that he can no longer carry on a conversation and has to excuse himself to nap for 15 or 20 minutes, “whatever time I can snatch”.

As with healthy food and regular meals, sleep has become a casualty in the battle for time. And as work, friends and parties take precedence, youngsters are finding it harder to sleep without assistance.

Over the last three years, sales of sleeping pills has seen a 15 per cent rise, according to the All India Chemists & Distributors Federation. “Many of the consumers are between the ages of 18 and 30,” says Kailash Gupta, president of the association.

According to a 2008 study by the Indian Sleep Disorders Association, 56.7 per cent of youngsters aged 18 to 31 are excessive sleepy during the day. A Dataquest survey of BPO employees aged 20 to 30 found that 38 per cent cited work timings as a major cause of stress and lack of sleep; 40 per cent suffered from sleep disorders.

“Sleeping late can cause chronic sleep deprivation,” says Dr J.C. Suri, head of the department of Respiratory Medicine, Critical Care & Sleep, Safdarjung Hospital, Delhi. Suri, who set up the country’s first sleep laboratory, adds that lack of sleep can have serious consequences, including decline in concentration levels, memory loss, mood swings and even lower immunity levels. Experts say young, urban India is sleeping two hours less on average than the previous generation — down from eight hours a day to a mere six. “It is a lifestyle change,” says Dr Suri. “People are working in shifts, trying to match their hours with office hours on the other side of the globe. Then, they are going home to 24x7 entertainment and the Internet.”

And the later you sleep, says Dr Suri, the poorer the quality of sleep. “Sleep is affected by noise, temperature and light, among other factors,” he says. “In the daytime, there is a lot of activity around and the quality of sleep is not as good. The body is clock is also not tuned to working at night.”

A 2005 survey by Dataquest found that about 35 per cent of BPO employees suffer from sleep disorders. “Youngsters know they have to work hard to keep up with their peers, but they also want to have a social life,” says Dr Gourav Gupta, senior psychiatrist at Apollo Hospital, Delhi. “So, even after their long, midday-to-midnight shift is over, they head to nightclubs and parties. All this affects sleep cycles.”

“Facebook, e-mail, TV are also responsible,” says Surinder Jodhka, professor of sociology at the School of Social Sciences, JNU. “Families have become democratic. Each member has his own timings, space, way of life.”

The worst part, perhaps, is that the youngsters don’t seem to see anything irregular with their sleep patterns, or indeed their consequent ‘hangovers’.

“It’s no disorder, it’s just my habit to sleep late,” says DJ Sumit. “It is people’s nature to label anything out-of-the-box a disorder. Who has made this rule that we should sleep at night?”