Unique Thinkers United

Stay Alert

23/09/2011 14:09


Is poor sleep the bane of your existence? Does it lead to goof ups at home and in the workplace? If you have answered yes to both these questions, it may help you to know that you are part of a growing group of insomniacs. Obstructive sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome and sleep deprivation affect up to 45 per cent of the world's population, estimates the World Association of Sleep Medicine.

Urban Indians have been hit particularly hard by this problem. They are either sleeping less due to rigorous work schedules or suffer some sleep disorder. According to a 2009 Philips survey, 93 per cent of urban Indians don't sleep enough, 28 per cent sleep for a mere five hours a night and 71 per cent wake up three times a night.

The repercussions of this situation are grim. Missing a night's sleep not just leaves our bright, young workforce drowsy during the day but impairs their memory and cognitive skills as the ' sleep debt' keeps increasing with time. A study done by Duke University shows that lack of sleep alters decisionmaking skills and impairs certain thinking abilities such as attention and memory. Most importantly, this leads to overly optimistic thinking that prompts a person into taking financial risks.

In the time of an epidemic of sleep disorders and sleep deprivation we give you tips to beat drowsiness and boost alertness when you haven't had enough sleep.


The pill promise
There are pills to help you fall asleep, and those that keep you up and alert too.

There are a variety of smart drugs or cognitive enhancers in the market that have variable side effects. They include dextroamphetamine (sold as Dexedrine and Adderall) and methylphenidate (Ritalin, Concerta), meant for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

However the popular class of smart drugs is known as eugeroics meaning ' good arousal'. This emerging breed of "alerting" or "wakefulness" pills are cognitive enhancers, far more advanced than earlier stimulants like caffeine and amphetamines. Instead of rattling the whole body, they just tweak specific sleep-related mechanisms in the brain, imparting a natural feeling of alertness to users. This is the reason military in the West sees huge potential in them as they enable soldiers to remain active and alert for up to 48 hours at a time.

The best known eugeroics are Modafinil and Armodafinil which have shown milder side effects than drugs like Ritalin.

"Apart from headaches, stomach upset and nausea, Modafinil haven't shown any serious side effects in users," says Dr Praveen Gupta, consultant neurology, Artemis Health Institute.

However, before you rush off to the chemist, here's what you should know.

Most of these drugs are meant to treat sleeping disorders such as narcolepsy which gives excessive daytime sleepiness to sufferers or sleep apnea when first line of treatment fails to relieve symptoms

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