Greenwood doctor discusses long-term dangers of sleep deprivation, offers advice for a better night’s rest

By Nancy Price

For the past five months, most of us have been distracted with concerns over the pandemic: What if I get laid off? Will the kids be OK in school? My parents are elderly and can’t leave the house. What if I pass along the virus to them?

As these concerns multiply, it’s becoming harder to shut down our brains and relax at night, leading to a lack in quality sleep.

“We’re seeing an uptick in insomnia,” said Abhinav Singh, MD, a sleep medicine specialist in Greenwood and medical director with the Indiana Sleep Center. “The mind is racing at night; you’ve been dwelling on things in your personal and professional lives and it’s caused the mind to keep spinning and not let sleep take over. Nobody is thinking of benefits and joys; they’re thinking of all the things that have gone wrong.”

Singh warns that sleep deprivation also affects REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, which occurs several times a night and accounts for about 20 to 25 percent of an adult’s sleep cycle. Most dreams happen during REM sleep and plays a role in learning, memory and mood.

“If you start depriving yourself, then you realize, ‘I forgot this errand, this chore.’ That’s the short-term immediate impact,” he said. “You snap quicker.” In addition, drowsy driving may occur, which could lead to accidents on the road.

Longer-term effects of sleep deprivation may include a shorter life span, sleep apnea, heart disease, stroke and an irregular heartbeat.

Abhinav Singh, MD. (Submitted photo)

Adults typically need seven to nine hours of sleep a night, however “that is seven hours of sleep, not bedtime,” Singh cautioned. Most adults need 20-25 minutes from the time it takes to slip into bed to the time they start to doze off.

An hour before bedtime is when people should shut down their laptops, put their phones aside and turn off the TV. Instead, Singh suggests the following, in order, for 15-minute increments:

  • Take a long shower, which improves melatonin, the hormone primarily released by the pineal gland that regulates the sleep-wake cycle.
  • Write a to-do list for chores on paper, not on a phone or tablet.
  • Light reading, preferably a magazine.
  • Breathing meditation. Singh said he uses the Insight program (insighttimer.com).

Singh also suggests keeping rooms at about 67-68 degrees F. White noise and listening to an audio book may also be effective to shut down interruptions out. Keep your phone far away, out of arm’s reach.

If waking up in the night is a problem, Singh advises against getting up to fold the laundry, load the dishwasher or check email, which signals the body to wake up. Instead, “let sleep come to you,” he said. Focus on breathing instead, “so your mind is locked into one place. You’re never going to have success chasing sleep. If you lay still, you may have a chance for sleep to come to you.”