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BPO workforce, journalists getting insomniac

More than 80 per cent of these professionals are suffering from insomnia -- a major cause of depression, reports Santanu Saraswati.

health and fitness Updated: May 18, 2007 13:49 IST

Chandrika Chhetri is still fighting against depression at her Namchi residence, a small town in Sikkim. After completing her honours from a reputed south Kolkata college, Chandrika took up a tele-caller's job with a BPO company at Sector V.

Chandrika has to answer every question her company's client in Sydney, Melbourne and Toronto used to make over telephone. Sometimes, she has to hear all abusive language her clients used to throw from the other side of the telephone. "We didn't have any fixed work schedule. Sometimes, I have to reach my office by 4 in the morning, sometimes at 8 in the night. Just after a month, I started having fragmented sleeps. It was really taking toll on my health. To make myself awake, I started smoking and drinking at least 20 cups of coffee from the canteen. It was really a horrendous experience I had during my six months of job with that company," Chandrika said.

Chandrika had to undergo treatment under a well-known psychiatrist. She, still, has to visit his chamber once a month.

Anamitra Chakraborty has not slept for months properly. After every half-an-hour, his sleep breaks that has compelled him becoming an irregular employee of a BPO company operating at Sector V. "I used to drink 15-20 cups of black coffee at night just to make myself awake at the night. The company, I am serving, is having most of its client base in North American countries, and there is a time difference of more than 12 hours. So I have to work everyday from 7 pm to 7 am. But finally it landed me with the habit of taking sleeping peels regularly. First, I started with minimum doses, and after few months with 10-15mg of alprazolam. My employer served me show-cause notice and I had nothing to say except submitting my medical prescription. The doctor advised me three months complete medication," said Anamitra.

Anamitra is not the precedent. Some have lost their job as their competency in solving the clients' problem gradually witnessed a downward trend. Some, under doctor's advice, change their trade, just to go back to the normal life.

Piyush Goswami is now working with a multinational bank as a junior executive. Piyush was compelled to lose few years of experience of working with a software BPO having office at Infinity Building career after his doctor advised him to go back to his normal daily schedule for getting cured from acute insomnia. "I lost my sleep and my marriage was on the verge of breaking. Thanks to one of my friend who made me visiting the doctor," said Piyush.

City is having sleepless nights. At least for the past five years the city has witnessed a tremendous rise in psychogenic and physiological disorder caused due sleeping disarray and fragmented sleep. The worst hit of this disease are the business process outsource workforce, the healthcare employees, the medical practitioners and even the journalists who have either shifting work schedule or prolonged and continuous night shifts.

City doctors termed the disease as mainly -"BPO-genic". A recent survey on city's highly skilled workforce revealed that more than 80 per cent of them are suffering from insomnia, a major cause of depression, obesity, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, decrease efficiency, acute abdominal pains and irregular periods, caused due to late-hours of watching television, attending late-night calls of the patients and shifting work schedules. Doctors, though blaming the changing life style pattern of the city, failed to find any solution other than changing jobs from BPO sector or changing profession.

"Depression caused due to acute insomnia has become a common phenomenon among the city's highly skilled workforce, especially working in the business process outsourcing companies. In the past five years, there has been 82 per cent rise in psychogenic and physiological disorder among people working in healthcare, BPO, multinational companies, electronic and print media. And 45 per cent of this are patients having perennial sleeping disorder, and the rest suffering from depression caused due to situational insomnia," said Dr Shiladitya Ray.

Ray is of opinion that fragmented sleep may even give rise to diseases like trigeminal neuralgia, burning skin, decrease efficiency and irregular period among women. Psychotherapist, Sunita Kumar, observed that there has been a steady rise in the number of her patients at Apollo Clinics, suffering from insomnia and depression. "When we start questioning our patients, in most of the cases, it is found that irregular sleeping hours or continuous nightshifts is what has made the patient vulnerable and feeling isolation. Except few hours of counselling and prescribing medicines, we don't have any other solution for these patients. And if the patient doesn't change profession and go back to normal life, chances of relapsing the disease is almost 200 per cent," said Kumar.

Not only depression or insomnia, Kumar observed that fragmented sleeps or sleeping disorder has given rise to high level of toxic anxiety and loss of appetite.

Experts recommend that adults get between seven and eight hours of sleep each night to maintain good health and optimum performance. Those who think they might have a sleep disorder are urged to discuss their problem with their primary care physician, who will issue a referral to a sleep specialist.

The study also finds that fragmented sleep profiles, akin to individuals suffering from middle of the night insomnia, healthcare workers on call, and parents caring for infants, medical practitioners and even journalists, alter natural systems that regulate and control pain, and can lead to spontaneous painful symptoms, said Dr Tapan Basu. "Our research shows that disrupted sleep, marked by multiple prolonged awakenings, impairs natural pain control mechanisms that are thought to play a key role in the development, maintenance, and exacerbation of chronic pain," said Basu, a pain-manager with Belle Vue Clinic.

Consultant psychiatrist, Dr Rima Mukherjee, observed that there has been a steady 10 per cent rise in the number of such patients at her clinics in West Bank Hospital and Arabinda Seva Kendra in the past one year. Mukherjee, even blames rise in accidents on city roads because of fragmented sleeps. "People are becoming susceptible to chronic psychomatic disorder and dependable on sleeping pills and alcohol. Because of fragmented sleeps, BPO and such-types of workforce are gradually losing efficiency and concentration," Mukherjee said.

Doctors suggesting immediate visit to clinics if fragmented sleeps persists for more than a week. "Otherwise, sleeping disorders will take its toll on city's health slowly.

According to Parikshit Bhaduri, head of US-based software development company, Connectiva Systems, there are cases, where sleeping disorder has finally taken toll on the efficiency of employees. "I found two of my very efficient colleagues doing mistakes, which were unlikely of them. When I started enquiring their details, it was found that both of them got the habit of playing on the computers, chatting with their friends in other parts of the world throughout the night. Finally I made them compelled of leaving their laptops in the office at the time of leaving for home. It worked wonders," Bhaduri said.

Psychoanalysts like Nandita Mukherjee, however, differ with the doctors regarding curability of this disease. Nandita suggests the best way to get cure is the willingness of the people suffering from such diseases. "Apart from counselling I always advice my patients to start yoga and reduce the amount of coffee or tea intake. Drinking tea or coffee, especially at night, causes immense harm on sleep. High intake of coffee or tea, even gives rise to loss of appetite apart from fragmented sleep. Counselling does help, but people suffering from depression out of sleeplessness could benefit from practising yoga. But I don't think, change of profession is really possible in our country where getting a fresh job is really very hard," Nandita said.

She even warns the students, who have the habit of studying at night and sleeping in the day. "Our body never allows change of schedule so easily. All these types of diseases are result of this. So it is always better to lead normal lifestyle what our climate and body permit," she added.