Insomnia is a matter of health


Published: Thursday, January 31, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 30, 2008 at 4:25 p.m.

Frequently, I get comments and questions from friends or acquaintances related to the time they receive e-mails from me. I actually capitalize on being able to write at any time of the night as opposed to waking someone with a phone call.

I have written lectures, papers, columns and answered e-mails at all hours of the night. You see, I am among the more than 100 million Americans who regularly fail to get a good night’s sleep.

In order to understand what a major problem this is for so many people, we have to consider the fact that sleep is not a simple process. I know that we generally think of this problem in reference to the elderly, but statistics show that its effect on people who suffer with more than 84 disorders is quite prevalent.

The term for a lack of sleep is insomnia. I’m sure the term is a household word in a lot of families because it is defined as one of two disorders: Difficulty falling asleep and difficulty staying asleep.

Having this disorder and subsequently suffering from a lack of sleep causes such problems as tiredness, lack of energy, difficulty concentrating and irritability.

These problems sometime leave a person feeling out of step with what’s happening around them. A lack of sleep also may be the underlying cause of depression, poor health and even accidents.

Insomnia can be placed into three categories: (1) Transient insomnia (a problem that lasts for a short time, (2) Intermittent insomnia (a loss of sleep occurring on and off), and (3) Chronic insomnia (a loss of sleep occurring on most nights and lasting for a month or more.).

So my contention is that we need more Americans to include a good night’s sleep into their health plan. We can no longer look at sleep as just a “time out” from our daily schedule. We must think of it as a health issue that may require medical help.

According to the Mercy General Web page, sleep and its different stages are influenced by parts of the brain. They list the different stages of sleep as drowsiness, light sleep, deep sleep and dream sleep.

People who do not reach the stages and remain in them for the required amount of time are those who fit into one of several groups. There are those who have problems falling asleep and staying asleep, those with difficulties staying awake or staying with a regular sleep/wake cycle, as well as those who sleep walk, wet the bed or have nightmares.

Among other problems related to this disorder are problems such as snoring and gasping for breath during sleep. A problem that is generally considered more annoying than serious is snoring.

Mild snoring is classified as social snoring, but it is not life-threatening. While snoring that causes embarrassment (we’ve all heard this one) may send your spouse into another room, heavy and irregular snoring may be related to a more serious and potentially life-threatening condition called obstructive sleep apnea, or OPA.

Insomnia isn’t only about the number of hours a person sleeps each night, but also about your perception that your sleep is inadequate. The more common reference to the amount of sleep each person needs is eight hours. This may not be true for you. In order to determine if your sleep pattern is healthy, it is a good idea to keep a diary for seven days.

Place a pad and pen by your bed so that you can record the time you go to bed, awake during the night, whether or not you woke up to leave the bed for water, etc. You may add other categories to this list if you find a pattern that is specific for you.

Take your journal in to your physician so that you can be evaluated and given directions on the best solution for your particular problem.

The Center for Sleep Disorders at Mercy Hospital suggests the following sleep hygiene rules that may be helpful for you:

  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol within four to six hours of bed time.

  • Avoid nicotine close to bed time and during the night.

  • Avoid large meals before bed time.

  • Avoid strenuous exercise within six hours of bed time.

  • Minimize noise, light, and extremes in temperature in the bedroom.

  • Try to sleep when you are drowsy.

  • Maintain a regular arise time, even on weekends.

  • Avoid napping during the day. If daytime sleepiness becomes overwhelming, take a nap for less than an hour before 3 p.m.

    If you cannot fall asleep or stay asleep, leave your bedroom. Engage in a quiet activity somewhere else, but do not allow yourself to fall asleep outside the bedroom. Return to bed only when you are sleepy. Repeat this process as often as necessary throughout the night.

    If you are fortunate enough to be vacationing and enjoying a good hotel, remember those chocolates that they place on your pillow are full of caffeine.

    I can’t help myself. I have to slap my hand for this one. I bet I have some readers who are with me: “TURN OFF THE TV.”

    Vivian Filer is a retired professor of nursing, Santa Fe Community College. Write to her in care of the Gainesville Guardian, “Health Files,” 2700 SW 13th St., Gainesville, Fla. 32608. You can also e-mail your questions, with “Health Files” in the subject line, to news@gainesvilleguardian.com.

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