How to deal with sleep disturbances

Body functions like the release of hormones, body temperature, sleep-wake cycles etc, are caused due to the Circadian rhythm which is controlled by our biological clock. Circadian rhythms are responses of living beings to their surrounding environment, primarily to light and darkness. This rhythm follows roughly a 24-hour cycle and causes physical, mental and behavioural changes.

The biological clock of our body is situated in the hypothalamus of the brain. This clock is a group of nerve cells called suprachiasmatic nucleus, or SCN. SCN controls the secretion of a hormone, melatonin, which makes us sleepy. When there is less light the SCN sends signals to the brain to secrete more melatonin. Thus the sleep and wake cycle are in rhythm with night and day.

Employees who work in shifts, especially at nights experience sleep disturbances due to disruption in the biological clock and in the Circadian rhythm. When these disturbances become chronic the health of employees gets affected.

Employees who work in rotating shifts or exclusive night shifts experience “shift work disorder”. Shift work disorder can lead to insomnia or to excessive sleepiness. This eventually leads to increased risk of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. Psychiatric problems like depression may be triggered due to sleep disturbances.

Due to the Circadian rhythm, the digestive system is active in the day and sluggish at night. Awaking at night impairs digestion. Inadequate sleep and caffeinated drinks taken during night shift aggravate digestive problems. Acidity and ulcers are very common in employees who work in night shifts.

According to the principles of ayurveda, good and timely sleep nourishes all tissues (dhatu poshana) and balances the three doshas. This keeps our body healthy. Proper digestion and nourishment of body tissues boost body energy and immunity to diseases. Altered sleep pattern vitiates vayu which in turn causes degeneration of tissues and the imbalance of doshas.

Vayu which gets aggravated due to disturbed sleep dries up the tissues. “ratrau jaagaranam rooksham” . The vitiated vayu causes the following condition.
· Improper digestion or disturbances in digestion.
· Either insomnia or increased sleepiness.
· Reduced concentration in work.
· Premature aging, which leads to dry skin, wrinkles, grey hair, hair loss etc.
· Lowered immunity.
· Low sperm count and sperm motility.
· Erectile dysfunction
· Premature ejaculation
· Reduction in quality and quantity of semen.
· Low libido.
· Depression.
· Irregular menstrual cycle in women.

Tips to reduce health hazards due to shift work:
· Adjust your shift in a definite pattern like – day shift-evening shift-night shift. This slow transition in sleep pattern helps the biological clock to adjust itself.
· Avoid consumption of tobacco, alcohol and caffeine. This helps to retard the ageing process and keeps the digestive system healthy.
· Keep your work place brightly lit during night shifts.
· Use blackout blinds or heavy, dark colored curtains to block sunlight when you sleep during the day.
· Switch off your mobile phones when you sleep in the day. Ask your family members not to disturb you.
· Consume light food before leaving for night shift.
· Avoid junk foods and aerated drinks at work.
· Take a warm shower before going to bed.
· Drinking a glass of warm milk before going to bed helps to replenish nutrients and nourish tissues, which have dried due to Vayu.
· A complete body massage once in week with vata balancing herbal oil helps to reduce fatigue and prevents early aging symptoms like wrinkles, dry skin etc.
· Massaging the head with herbal oil helps to reduce hair loss and premature graying.
· Try to spend around 30 minutes daily, for a brisk walk or get a light work out in a gym.
· Drink plenty of water to maintain water balance. This increases body moisture level and reduces effects of vitiated vata.
· Avoid refrigerated foods and beverages.

Image: Flickr/creativecommons carbonNYC