covid: Coronasomnia? 2 years into Covid, A sleep crisis is unfolding in India


If you’re a person who experiences frequent dreams, you can rest assured that you’re sleeping well – and that is an official diagnosis by doctors who are experts on sleep disorders.

In the wake of the pandemic, doctors are witnessing a spike in patients – many of them corporate executives – coming in with complaints of insomnia and other sleep disorders. “Sleep disturbances are getting very common post-Covid and clearly there is no universal approach to tackle it,” said Dr Cijith Sreedhar, CMO, Prakriti Shakti – Clinic of Natural Medicine by CGH Earth.

Data compiled by All India Organisation of Chemists and Druggists (AIOCD)-AWACS shows that the overall basket of drugs used to treat sleep disorders has grown 8% in volume for the year ended June 2022. This comes on back of a 2.2% decline in the base year ended June 2021 due to the second Covid wave.

Sheetal Sapale, president – marketing, AWACS, said some categories of psycholeptic and psychoanaleptic drugs saw a sharp increase during the second Covid wave, possibly because of “depression that may be caused due to the mental trauma of work from home, loss of social contact, loss of near and dear ones”.

“There were several physiological and lifestyle changes that took place during Covid,” says Anjali Chhabria, psychiatrist and founder of Mind Temple Institute, and the “readjustments” needed to get back to prior routines are causing sleep issues. “Lack of sleep can lead to daytime drowsiness to making wrong decisions, getting into accidents etc.”

And sleep, or lack of it, is now officially linked to heart disease. Last month, the American Heart Association added duration of sleep to the existing seven factors – diet, physical activity, nicotine exposure, weight, cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure – that evaluate a person’s risk for heart disease. Cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death in most countries, including India. The lack of sleep is a ‘vicious circle’ and leads to several physiological issues. “It’s easy buying sleeping pills. But the sleep you get through these pills is more of a sedation. Such people on pills have a ‘dreamless sleep’,” said Dr Sreedhar. According to him, the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) phase of sleep in which dreams mostly occur, is a state where there is zero stress hormone action in the body. Patients admitted with sleep disturbances begin having dreams after three to five days of the programme, and Dr Sreedhar says that is an indication of them being on a path to recovery.

In a national survey of more than 32,000 responses conducted by LocalCircles, a community social media platform, 52% Indians said that their sleep pattern has changed after the Covid pandemic. One average, one in two Indians surveyed said that they are getting less than six hours of uninterrupted sleep each night while one in four are sleeping less than four hours. Sleep apnea, waking up during sleep, trouble going to sleep or needing more hours are some of the issues reported.

Back in 2017, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings had famously said the streaming giant’s biggest rivals aren’t Amazon, YouTube or traditional broadcasters, but sleep. While Netflix is losing subscribers in millions now, the trend of sleep disruption that OTT caused has only exacerbated.

“Rather than taking short cuts like sleeping pills, it is better to find out what’s affecting the sleep whether it is anxiety, depression or stress and get it treated,” said Chhabria who has addressed at least 50,000 employees through workshops to address these concerns.

There are now a slew of wearable and non-wearable devices that help monitor sleep patterns. While the former includes fitness trackers, smartwatches, rings, and wristbands; the latter includes smart beds besides monitors, smartphone apps and smart mattress pads. “Most people are turning to fitness trackers to gauge their sleep depth, quality, and quantity. But this data may not always be 100% accurate”, said Luke Coutinho – Integrative and Lifestyle Medicine Expert, Holistic Nutrition. “The easiest way to track your sleep quality is when you wake up, ask yourself – Do I feel rested? If yes, your sleep was enough for you”.

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