Wake up, poor sleepers: Uncovering the real causes behind insomnia and avoiding quick fixes

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Earlier this week, many in the startup and tech ecosystem were shocked by Nithin Kamath’s revelation that he had a “mild stroke”. The Zerodha founder, one of the most impassioned advocates of fitness in the industry, cited “poor sleep” as one of the probable causes for it, compelling several others in this hyperproductive environment to confront their struggles with sleep. “Sleep is a massive issue,” says a founder of a major consumer internet company in a conversation with ET, requesting anonymity. “I can’t sleep without taking melatonin every day.”

Melatonin, a hormone produced by the human brain in response to darkness, regulates the circadian rhythm and facilitates sleep. But the melatonin, which the founder refers to above, is a lab-made supplement, contributing to India’s $308 million sleep aids market of over-the-counter (OTC) pharmaceuticals, according to Statista Market Insights.

Sleep supplements are just one of the many components of a growing $585 billion global sleep economy, which includes mattress companies and meditation apps.
But these supplements, primarily containing melatonin or magnesium glycinate, have emerged as the preferred sleep hack for many urban professionals with high-stakes jobs, such as those in the startup and tech world, say medical practitioners and mental health professionals. Self-prescribed sleep supplements can become a problem as they can sometimes obscure the real cause of sleep troubles.

Surbhi Jain, founder of sleep solutions company Neend, sees this trend firsthand in her product sales. “Our bedtime stories in various Indian languages have got immense popularity, amassing millions of listens on our YouTube channels. Sleep gummies have a comparatively lower acceptance rate among the general audience as they tend to be wary, thinking these are akin to prescription sleeping pills,” she says.

“In contrast, within the startup ecosystem, including founders, gamers, developers and VCs, melatonin gummies enjoy considerable popularity,” she adds, “because this segment has done its research.” Jain admits she takes melatonin gummies once a fortnight, because “if I listen to our bedtime stories, I start thinking how they could have been made better, instead of focusing on sleeping”.“Almost half of my clients who face serious sleep-related issues are taking some form of sleep supplements,” says Avneet Kaur, a counselling psychologist from Bengaluru. She notes that dependence on sleep gummies is quite normalised in their circles, even though she urges her clients to prioritise behavioural changes.Among her clientele, consisting of 18-36-year-olds, primarily from the IT and tech workforce, she observes a pattern of wanting to be productive every second of the day. Some extend this drive for productivity to sleep cycles as well. Sleep supplements offer a quick fix for their sleep cycles—as opposed to lifestyle changes that take more time—and are hence perceived as a more efficient option. “Most of it is self-prescribed,” she says.

Medical practitioners find this trend a bit worrying. “Often patients take sleep supplements like melatonin, without consulting a doctor, while the disease that is causing insomnia remains untreated,” says Mahavir Modi, a Pune-based pulmonologist and sleep medicine consultant. “For sleep apnea patients, for instance, some of these supplements can have an adverse effect on their underlying condition,” he adds.

Doctors avoid prescribing sedatives for sleep disorders, but if they do, it is with caution and only after understanding the patient’s clinical picture, says Kavita Sudarshan Rohit, an ENT specialist from Mumbai. “Sleep medications release certain chemicals in the brain that make the nervous system less active. Some of them are habit-forming and hence are always prescribed for a short while. Over-thecounter sale of such drugs lead to abuse in the form of dependency and withdrawal,” she adds.

People who are taking sleep supplements without prescription for extended periods are generally aware that it is not good for their health, says Rohit. “These are people who have read up on the cons of their dependency on supplements, but the effect is more necessary for them than the side effects, because of the nature and demands of their work and lifestyle.”

This corresponds with what Kaur notices among her clients who are dealing with sleep-related challenges and are taking gummies to overcome them. “You can see that there is cognitive awareness about the importance of sleep, but not the will to make long-term changes to fix it,” she says.

There are exceptions, of course. Anand Jain, cofounder of CleverTap, a customer engagement platform, is able to sleep for 7-7.5 hours daily by following the 10-3-2-1-0 method for sleeping to the extent possible.

While no caffeine 10 hours before bedtime is not always possible, he says, “I try not to eat three hours before bedtime, not to drink two hours before bedtime and not to use screen an hour before bedtime, although I do cheat with blue light-blocking glasses or by reading a book for 45-60 minutes on Kindle.” Aman Gupta, cofounder and CMO of consumer electronics company boAt, says he is able to “sleep for 8-10 hours every day” by following an exercise routine three-four days a week, and “having flexible work hours instead of adhering to a fixed number of hours for work every day”. Not everyone is that lucky.

Credits – Source – https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/industry/healthcare/biotech/healthcare/wake-up-poor-sleepers-uncovering-the-real-causes-behind-insomnia-and-avoiding-quick-fixes/articleshow/108167011.cms

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