London: Experts including one of Indian origin are now beginning to put special focus on a newly identified sleep disorder called “semi-somnia”, which is claiming growing numbers of sufferers.
Despite not sharing the full agonising symptoms of acute sleeplessness, which has been linked to weakened immune systems, depression, high blood pressure and even heart disease, semi-somnia – that is being called insomnia’s irritating little sister, but is far from harmless.
Rather than totally sleepless nights, sufferers experience short bouts of sleep disruption - perhaps on particularly busy or stressful days. They may wake every night for 30 minutes, or find it impossible to sleep for an hour because their minds are racing.
Then there is “fizzy sleep”, a phrase coined by Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, a sleep coach at London’s Capio Nightingale hospital, and author of the book ‘Tired But Wired’.
“It’s not a scientific term, but clients say that’s what their head feels like,” the Daily mail quoted her as saying.
“They are asleep but it’s not restful. It’s a jangly, information-filled sleep where the brain is still highly active,” she said.
Experts believe the reason our mind goes into information overload is not just the sheer amount of material we’re taking in, but that we’ve stopped taking any downtime.
“We’ve spent five years researching this with 30,000 sufferers and technology is probably the main cause,” Jean Gomes, chairman of The Energy Project - a consultancy dedicated to helping people counteract tiredness issues, said.
Humans have always had stress and that does interfere with sleep, but work and home used to be separated by time and space: leaving the office meant you had to switch off.
“You may have had a stressful day, but your mind could process problems overnight and you’d wake the next day refreshed. Now the ways we relax - shopping online, tweeting while watching television and checking Facebook- mean our brains are in a permanent state of arousal,” he said,
For us to sleep, three main things happen - the decline in light triggers the production of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin, our temperature starts to fall and our mind and body relax, allowing our nervous system to switch off. Using technology interferes with each of those steps.
Studies have found bright screens can reduce melatonin levels by almost a quarter, while research has shown that people exposed to the radiation given out by mobile phones before bed take longer to enter the deepest stages of sleep - and spend less time there.
Then there’s the fact that what you read online could keep your mind whirring.
Sleep is when the mind processes the information we’ve taken in throughout the day, but the huge amount of material we now consume online can simply be too much to deal with.
“The part of the brain that deals with information processing is relatively small - and it can’t cope with the sheer amount of input it’s getting now.” Dr Ramlakhan said.
The result is, we’re spending longer in the part of sleep where we process information and less time in the deep restorative sleep we need to refresh us. Then we’re waking up exhausted. Yet most of us don’t realise this is what’s happening unless we stop.
Dr Ramlakhan advises to take information “minibreaks” every 90 minutes through the day to give your mind some space.
“Drink lots of water. Your bladder will then force you to take a time out - and don’t take your phone to the bathroom with you,” he said.
Other good times to take an “input break” are while on public transport and in queues. If you do use gadgets in the evening, set the screen brightness to low and confine sessions to less than an hour - short sessions have not been shown to affect significantly melatonin suppression.
Enlarge the type size and keep the device as far from you as possible to decrease your light exposure.
The biggest tip of all is that an hour before bed you must turn all gadgets off - xperts call this the “electronic sundown”, which allows your natural sleep systems to switch on.