Some seek solace in medication to help them doze. But while a Valium 5 mg pill will dispatch you to dreamland, the risk of side effects (dizziness and memory problems) can bring back the sleepless nights. Interestingly , it’s technology to which many are turning to tune out, whether it’s sensors to track sleep cycles or special glasses that fool your brain into believing it’s dusk when it’s actually dawn.
Wrist bands that track your sleep, glasses that emit sleep-inducing light technology is rising to the challenge of putting sleep-deprived Indians to bed
Wearable fitness devices like FitBit and GOQii come with in-built sleep trackers that give you an itemized evaluation of your sleep. Their sensors capture the tossing and turning in bed and the deep sleep hours spent in the rapid eye movement (REM) phase, to calculate the right time to wake you up with a gentle vibration. In the morning you can read your sleep log and figure out what’s missing.
Madhavi Galoda, 27, a technical writer in Hyderabad, started wearing FitBit Flex to monitor her fitness levels and discovered that she had a sleep disorder. “I live alone so there’s no one to tell me I move a lot in my sleep. But the sleep log revealed a restless pattern and I sought help from a doctor,“ says Galoda who was diagnosed with mild apnea and has been prescribed weight loss, and different sleeping positions.
About 35% of all users who buy the fitness tracker, GOQii, have sleep and stress-related issues.“Many are call centre employees who work nights.With the help of the sleep tracker and sleep coach feature in the GOQii band and app, they are able to manage their sleep cycles better,“ says Vishal Gondal, founder and CEO of the company .
The association between light and good sleep is also spawning intelligent lighting solutions for homes. For instance, Philips Hue, which launched last year, is a web-enabled home lighting system that allows the user to alter the shades of white light or create any colour in order to sleep better. It can be synced with mobile apps on iOS and Android.
Doctors, however, caution that most of these gadgets won’t work without a healthier lifestyle.“Sleep trackers often give confusing readings.Light-mimicking devices like Re-Timer can’t give sustained results without the user overhauling his entire lifestyle,“ says Dr P P Bose, a sleep specialist in Delhi. But 30-year-old K S Thomas, who has been suffering from insomnia for more than 10 years, is thrilled with his Re-Timer glasses, which emit a light to help the body clock reset. “Allopathic and alternative cures were of little use. Sleep meds made me drowsy and affected my memory ,“ says stress-affected Thomas, who lives in Kerala. About eight months ago, he purchased Re-Timer. It resembles a pair of big reading glasses and emits coloured light, which mimics daylight. Regulated exposure to this light corrects the circadian rhythm and hence our sleeping time. Thomas says that four days into the therapy , he found himself rested. “Now all it takes is half an hour of using the device daily to sleep well for almost a fortnight,“ he says.
A popular new sleep aid is melatonin.
Sales in India jumped 40% last year, according to AIOCD AWACS, a pharma market research company . A sleep hormone, melatonin is secreted by the brain’s pineal gland. It regulates the body’s sleep and wake cycles. Randomized clinical trials have shown its effectiveness in countering jet lag though it has more modest benefits when it comes to chronic insomnia. “Melatonin is consumed mostly for jet lag rather than sleep disorders,“ says Dr Harish Shetty , a wellknown psychiatrist in Mumbai.
In the US, melatonin is sold over-thecounter -as tablets, gels, solutions and sprays. It’s not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and is marketed as a dietary supplement. In India, it can be sold only as a prescription drug. Only pharma majors, like Alembic and Aristo Pharmaceuticals, sell melatonin drugs. But with the jury still out on effects of its long-term use, it may be best to err on the side of caution.