Can’t sleep? Insomnia and you

In the wake of gluing to our gadgets, long to-do lists, and living with ever-growing social and emotional anxieties, we know how mental and physical stressors are increasing day after day — making most of us insomniacs.

According to a published article ‘Epidemiology of Insomnia*’ nearly about 20-30% of the general population is estimated to have various types of sleep disorders. And around 80% of Indians are sleep-deprived. The changing lifestyle and intrusion of modern gadgets have only aggravated the situation and added to the harmful effects of sleep deprivation.

The study also suggested that sleep is one of the essential and basic physiological processes seen in highly-evolved animals. For adequate daytime functioning, a full night’s refreshing sleep is essential. “It is now well known that sleep is not a mere passive state but an active neurobehavioral state maintained by a highly organized interaction of neural networks and neurotransmitters of the central nervous system,” as per the research.

What causes insomnia?

  • Mental and emotional stress It can be caused by your career, a work promotion or demotion, change of job, relationship problems, loss of a loved one, divorce or relocating, etc.
  • Addictionhigher doses of caffeine, and other drugs.
  • A prolonged illness that afflicts you or a family member
  • Mental, physical or emotional discomfort, Trauma, anxiety depression.
  • Lack of a regular routine and changes to your sleep schedule because of a newborn baby, a pet, change in work shifts, or jet lag
  • Environmental factors such as climatic conditions and noise pollution can affect sleep quality and sleep cycle.
  • Certain Medications and drugs that are used to treat conditions like hypertension, asthma and allergies may also affect the quality of sleep.

Studies have found a direct relationship between employment status, socioeconomic status, and educational level in the prevalence of insomnia. Marital status (married, divorced, widowed, single) also has a significant impact on the prevalence of insomnia.

The metabolic effects of Insomnia

Lack of adequate sleep has several and often serious consequences on various metabolic functions and almost all body organs. This has been extensively studied but here only a brief outline of the various metabolic effects of insomnia is included.

The metabolic profile that has received major attention is the effect of insomnia on glucose metabolism. Though this was first observed decades back its significance is now better understood. Another study showed that insomnia with short sleep duration is associated with increased odds of diabetes. Chronic sleep loss increases the risk of obesity and diabetes via multiple pathways, including adverse effects on the parameters of glucose regulation.

The effects of Insomnia on Morbidity

The presence of chronic insomnia has been demonstrated to have a direct consequence on the quality of life. Patients with chronic insomnia tend to report a greater sense of daytime fatigue, poorer mood, higher anxiety and stress, less vigor, greater difficulty in coping with daily social and familial needs, and poor quality of life.

The effects of Insomnia on Mortality

There are very few studies that have shown the effects of insomnia and the role of its treatment on mortality. A study by Janson et al64 showed that the presence of severe insomnia at the initial interview showed an increased risk of mortality when followed up over 10 years. Another study93 showed that severe insomnia among the male population was related to an increased risk of mortality during a three-and-a-half-year follow-up period.

Overexposure to blue light could be hurting your eyes, sleep cycle

Artificial light is composed of visible light as well as some ultraviolet (UV) and infrared (IR) radiations, and there is a concern that the emission levels of some lamps could be harmful for the skin and the eyes. Both natural and artificial light can also disrupt the human body clock and the hormonal system, and this can cause health problems. The ultraviolet and the blue components of light have the greatest potential to cause harm.

Continued exposure to blue light over time could damage retinal cells and cause vision problems such as age-related macular degeneration. It can also contribute to cataracts, eye cancer and growths on the clear covering over the white part of the eye. According to a study funded by the National Eye Institute, children are more vulnerable than adults because their eyes absorb more blue light from digital devices.

Sleep deprivation, also known as insomnia, is a serious health problem that can negatively impact an individual’s physical and mental health. Eye problems such as dryness and itching are commonly experienced after episodes of sleep deprivation, while long-term sleep deprivation comes with an increased risk for eye disease.

The cornea, which is the transparent tissue layer covering the eye, is essential for assuring the health and function of the eye. The cornea is maintained by stem cells, which divide to replace dying cells and repair small injuries. Corneal stem cell activity needs to be precisely tuned to assure an adequate output of new corneal cells, and deregulation of corneal stem cells can lead to eye disease and impaired vision. In a study recently published in Stem Cell Reports, researchers Wei Li, Zugou Liu and colleagues from Xiamen University, China and Harvard Medical School, USA, evaluated how sleep deprivation impacts corneal stem cells. Their experiments in mice showed that short-term sleep deprivation increased the rate at which stem cells in the cornea multiplied.
At the same time, sleep deprivation altered the composition of the protective tear film, reducing the tear film antioxidants in sleep-deprived mice. The researchers found that the tear film composition had a direct impact on corneal stem cell activity and, encouragingly, the application of teardrops containing antioxidants reversed the excessive stem cell activity.

The study revealed that serious effects on corneal health, such as thinning and ruffling of the cornea and loss of transparency, were seen after long-term sleep deprivation. Further, corneas of long-term sleep-deprived mice contained fewer stem cells, suggesting that persistent stimulation of stem cell activity over longer periods led to exhaustion and loss of corneal stem cells.
These data suggest that sleep deprivation negatively affects the stem cells in the cornea, possibly leading to vision impairment in the long run. Further studies are required to confirm that similar processes are happening in human corneal stem cells and in patients, and to test if local antioxidant therapy may overcome some of the negative effects of sleep deprivation on corneal health.

*Epidemiology of insomnia: A review of the Global and Indian scenario, Dr D Bhattacharya*, Dr MK Sen**, Dr JC Suri*** * Senior Chest Physician, ** Consultant & Associate Professor, *** Consultant, Professor & Head Department of Pulmonary, Critical Care & Sleep Medicine, Vardhman Mahavir Medical College & Safdarjang Hospital, New Delhi.


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