Inspiring Better Health

All About Insomnia: We Ask the Experts

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All About Insomnia: We Ask the Experts
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Sleep – we all need it. A good night’s sleep prepares you for whatever the new day will bring. But failure to get enough can lead to all manner of health issues. We spoke with Dr. Aisha Hussein, Medical Consultant in Chest Diseases and Sleep Disorders at Hamad Hospital, to learn more about the most common sleep disorder, and what you can do to improve your sleep.

Sleep disorders represent a problem because of the consequences of sleep deprivation on our health, and consequently our entire life. Can you tell us about sleep disorders, and what causes them?

The number of patients attending clinics for sleep disorder treatment is rising. Broken sleep, sleep-walking, nightmares, snoring, or fatigue during the day are all signs that you suffer from a sleep disorder. Insomnia is the most common sleep problem, and treatment depends on what has triggered the issue in the first place.

Transit or Circumstantial Insomnia:

Anyone can develop this type of insomnia. It is triggered by circumstances or events that take place in daily life, such as problems at work, stressful relationships, exams or even the pressure of household chores and family life. Environmental factors, such as extreme heat or cold, or noise can also affect sleeping patterns. Boredom, loneliness and isolation from society also add to this type of insomnia.

Treatment for Transit Insomnia:

This type of insomnia usually resolves itself without the need for medical treatment—sleep returns to normal once the main trigger is removed. However, if disruption to sleep continues for a long time, there’s a risk of long term sleep problems and related health issues.

Insomnia Caused by Mental Illness:

Depression is one of the most common causes of insomnia. People with depression do not only find it difficult to get to sleep, but also often wake up in the middle of the night and then struggle to get back to sleep. Anxiety is another common cause of insomnia. The mind is occupied by incessant worry and this isn’t conducive to sleep.

Treatment for Insomnia Caused by Mental Illness:

If you are chronically depressed or anxious, speak to your doctor about a suitable treatment for you. Counselling, anti-depressants, talking therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy can all help relieve your symptoms and help you towards healthier sleeping patterns.

Insomnia and Substance Dependence:

Using alcohol to help you sleep carries with it many health risks, including adverse effects on your health. As does the regular use of sleeping pills. Those addicted to alcohol suffer from severe insomnia in the event of alcohol’s unavailability before going to sleep. Sleeping pills taken with alcohol to treat insomnia can lead to death. If you are concerned about this, speak to your doctor.

Circadian Rhythm (Body Clock) Disorders:

Your body runs like a well-timed clock. The Circadian Rhythm runs your internal body clock, which regulates hormone production, cell regeneration and other biological functions over the course of 24 hours. When this is disrupted, because of insomnia or poor sleeping habits, it can have serious repercussions on health. People with irregular sleeping patterns, due to social or professional duties, can suffer from a disrupted circadian clock. This can also happen with travel, for example moving from the eastern hemisphere to the western hemisphere—which is why jet lag can be so difficult to deal with. If you suffer from insomnia, your circadian rhythm will be disrupted.

Treatment for Circadian Rhythm Disorders:

Treatment depends on the underlying cause of the disorder, but generally involves a combination of sleep hygiene and lifestyle changes to return to a more regular sleep routine.

What are the stages of sleep? Is it possible for a person to be conscious during sleep?

Researchers have identified the various phases of sleep by measuring the brain’s intermittent electric waves during sleep. Sleep phases last about two hours each. The first phase is falling asleep—the eyeballs move upwards. The second phase is slow-wave sleep—hearing and muscles become relaxed. The third phase is Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep—this stage is a coma-like state, in which dreams occur. The fourth phase is medium-active and usually leads to waking up.

Modern studies have shown that sleep deprivation for any reason leads to severe behavior disorders and brain atrophy. Chronic lack of sleep leads to fatigue, irritability, high blood pressure and heart attacks, and reduces the body’s immunity.

Why do some people wake up feeling tired in the morning even after a long night’s sleep?

Some active people can wake up every morning at about the same time, without the use of an alarm clock. While others use the alarm clock to wake up and feel tired for an hour or more after waking. Or you might wake up feeling energized, decide to hit the snooze button, and feel tired the next time the alarm goes off.

This is because of the nature of sleep. During the night, you pass through several stages of sleep: light sleep, from which you can easily wake up; deep sleep, which is difficult to wake up from; and then the dream stage. When your biological alarm clock wakes you up naturally during the light stages of sleep, you feel energetic when you wake up. But the traditional alarm clock is simply set to a specific time that doesn’t take into account what stage of sleep you find yourself in. If your alarm clock goes off during a deep sleep phase, you will feel tired when you wake up.

In practice, most people spend most time in the deep sleep phase in the first three hours of nocturnal sleep. Therefore, to avoid feeling sluggish during the day and struggling to wake up, it is important to get to sleep early and not to be subjected to physical or mental effort for two hours before bedtime, like working on the computer.

Do you have any tips for our readers for a healthy, restorative and comfortable sleep?

  • Go to bed at the same time every night.
  • Have a light meal in the evening. A big meal can be heavy on the stomach and disrupt sleep. It also presses on the diaphragm, which can cause nightmares.
  • Avoid stimulants such as tea, coffee, cola and energy drinks, as they are enemies of sleep. If you are sensitive to caffeine, do not consume it after 2 pm, if you are less sensitive, simply avoid it after 5 pm
  • Make sure you exercise in the morning or earlier in the day, because working out at night can stimulate the body and make it harder to fall asleep.
  • Create a quiet and relaxed atmosphere in your bedroom.
  • Relax in a warm bath with calming essential oils like lavender.
Tip: Would you like to try the healing power of essential oils at home? A good way to start is buy getting a small essential oil kit. This one contains lavender, sweet orange, peppermint, eucalyptus, lemon and tea tree to get you started on your aromatherapy journey.
  • Read a good book.
  • Drink herbal tea like chamomile.
  • Avoid sleeping in light because that accelerates the aging process and inhibits the secretion of melatonin, which is essential for comfort and tranquility.
  • Do not think about disturbing things while you are in bed. Avoid worrying or feeling tense. Relax and forget the world’s problems.
  • Smartphones and tablets produce blue light which has been shown to disrupt sleep. If you have an Apple product, switch it to Night Mode, alternatively you can download the Flux app, which removes the blue light from your screen past a certain time of night.

Still can’t sleep? Why not give meditation a try?