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Sleepless in the City

Sleep becomes a casualty of a hectic lifestyle, with an increasing number of people spending their nights with eyes wide open. Sunday HT reports... For that dream sleep.

entertainment Updated: Jun 29, 2008 02:51 IST
Sunday HT

We are biologically designed to spend one-third of our lives asleep. But many are just too busy to sleep. Like ad film producer Sunny Salvi, 33, who has spent a decade sleep-deprived. He worked 16-to-18-hour shifts without a single vacation, sometimes not meeting his mother for entire weeks despite living in the same house. “Advertising is a cut-throat industry, especially if you’re a freelancer. There’s no fixed salary at the end of the month, so you tend to be insecure and end up working more,” he explains.

Armira Dalal, 21, chooses to sleep only five hours every night, even when she’s on holiday. A trainee at Deutsche Bank, she is nonchalant about her lack of sleep: “I can function better on five hours of sleep than if I’ve managed to sleep longer, in which case I feel lazy and tired the whole day.”

Early start

Dalal has been sleeping five hours a day since she was 12. A recent study on 11-year-olds in a private Delhi school revealed that a significant number suffered from sleep disturbances, which contributed to their hyperactivity and concentration problems. “Such sleep patterns become more established as the children grow older,” says lead author of the study, Dr Manvir Bhatia, chairperson of the department of Sleep Medicine at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital.

Take a typical day in the life of St. Xavier’s College student Megan Murray, who is one of of the organisers of the famed inter-collegiate festival, Malhar: “I wake up at 6.30 every morning to attend my lectures. The afternoons and evenings are reserved for Malhar work, for which we sometimes end up staying back until 10 pm,” says Murray. She continues, “After coming home, I go to a friend’s place, or we meet at Bandstand. I then stay up until midnight or later to finish my assignments. I also need my time with the TV, so by the time I fall asleep, it’s usually 3 or 4 am.”

Murray’s not complaining about missing out on her beauty sleep. “Almost everyone my age has a hectic lifestyle, and as long as one can handle it, it’s okay to cut back on sleep. After all, Bombay never sleeps; we’re the New York City of India,” she says enthusiastically.

Sleeping on the wheel

The flipside of keeping up when you should be in bed is nodding off when you should be up. Sleep clinics report an increase in the number of patients who are dosing off at the most inappropriate times — while driving, in business meetings, on the phone, and even in the bathroom.

Two pilots recently put the lives of a hundred passengers in jeopardy when they fell fast asleep while operating the domestic leg of a Dubai-Jaipur-Mumbai flight. And just two days ago, a tempo fell off a flyover in Delhi, killing the driver — who was asleep while driving.

Explains Dr Bhatia, “The day is linked to the night. If the night sleep is not sufficient in quality and quantity, the body will try and make up for it in the next 24 hours. If you have a sleep debt, sleep can intrude in any monotonous task.”

Sleep deprivation can also result from disorders like sleep apnea — a potentially life-threatening breathing disorder that occurs during sleep. Says Dr Sanjay Sobti, senior consultant, respiratory medicine, critical care and sleep medicine, Indraprastha Apollo, “Many sleep apnea patients sleep over the wheel and have nearly had bad accidents because of this.”

According to the Delhi Traffic Police website, the automobile crash rate for patients with sleep apnea has been estimated to be two to three times greater than for other drivers. Delhi’s Joint Commissioner of Police (Traffic) S N Shrivastava says, “Accidents occurring late at night can be attributed to sleeping on the wheel, among other things, as alertness levels come down. Drivers often don’t know they have fallen asleep for a split second.”

And for those who are sleeping less to be more productive, there’s some more bad news: “Cutting down on sleep brings down productivity. Sleep deprivation affects memory, motivation, creativity, perseverance and intellect,” says Dr Vikram Sarabhai, senior consultant, chest, critical care and sleep medicine at Max Super Speciality hospital, Saket.

More than enough reason to catch your forty winks at night.

— Neha Tara Mehta in Delhi, with Kinjal Dagli and Riddhi Shah in Mumbai.