Sleep plays an important part in a person’s sense of wellbeing. Having poor quality sleep or insufficient sleep can lead to increased risk of developing high blood pressure, heart disease and mood problems. When these sleep issues persist for over a month, cause significant distress and disruption to a person’s life, the condition would be classified as a sleep disorder.
People with sleep disorders experience disruptive sleep which include difﬁculty falling or staying asleep, falling asleep at inappropriate times, excessive total sleep time, or abnormal behaviour associated with sleep e.g. sleepwalking.
Depending on the speciﬁc type of sleep disorder, some common symptoms include feeling sleepy or irritable during the day, difﬁculty staying awake, difﬁculty concentrating at work, home or school, falling asleep while driving, others telling you often you look tired, slowed reaction, memory problems, emotional outbursts, a feeling that you need to nap every day, needing caffeinated drinks to make it through the day, or snoring when asleep.
Sleep hygiene is about paying attention to our daytime habits and controlling certain factors that can affect our sleep. Having a sleep diary can help you keep track of your sleep pattern and identify factors that may be contributing to your sleep problems.
Your sleep diary should include the time you went to bed and woke up, total sleep hours and perceived quality of sleep, a record of the time you spent awake and what you did (e.g. “got up, had a glass of milk”, “stayed in bed with eyes closed”), types and amount of food, liquids, caffeine, or alcohol you consumed before bed, times of consumption, your feelings and mood before bed (e.g. stress, anxiety, low mood) and medications or drugs taken including time of consumption and dose.
After a week or two, the diary can reveal how certain behaviours may have affected your chance of having a good night’s sleep.
If your sleep problems persist in spite of your self-help remedies, you should consult your GP or sleep specialist.
If you’re having issues falling asleep or staying asleep, you could be suffering from insomnia.
Insomnia is a condition that affects the quality and/or duration of a person’s sleep or the behaviour during sleep.
Insomnia can be a result of a mental health condition or related to substance abuse.
Studies estimate that 10% to 15% of the adult population have chronic sleep problem and an additional 25% to 35% of the population have transient or occasional sleep difficulties. Certain individuals are vulnerable for example the elderly whose sleep is more fragmented and teenagers who sometimes have difficulty falling asleep until late at night and awaking early in the morning. Shift workers and those who travel frequently are also at increased risk for insomnia.
Sleep can be affected by numerous factors and six groups of etiologies have been proposed for sleep difficulties. Physical or medical disorders for example conditions causing pain, itch, cough, breathlessness etc. can disrupt sleep. Substances such as caffeine, nicotine and alcohol also impair sleep.
Circadian rhythm problem such as shift work and jet lag; psychological factors and psychiatric disorder such as depression, anxiety and psychosis. Lifestyle issues, poor sleep habits and environmental factors such as noise, light and temperature also interrupt sleep.
If sleep problems persist and are bothersome or if they interfere with how you feel or function during the day, you may need to seek your doctors’ advice.
If sleep problems worsen and are not treated, complications such as psychiatric disorders can occur. The quality of life of the individual is likely to be compromised, the work performance effected and he or she is at significant risk of accidents such as vehicle accidents.
Treatment of sleep problem does depend upon the specific sleep problem and can be broadly classified into non-pharmacologic and pharmacologic treatment. Good sleep habits can prevent many cases from worsening, some recommendations for good Sleep Hygiene include:
Sometime sleep problems resolve spontaneously. At other times, medicines for example sleeping pills may be needed. Benzodiazepines are the most frequently prescribed hypnotics. There are also non-benzodiazepines, newer medications without the side-effects noted with benzodiazepines.
Other behavioural techniques to improve sleep include relaxation therapy, stimulus control and sleep restriction therapy. These are specific techniques that reduce or eliminate anxiety and body tension and recondition individuals to associate the bed and bedtime with sleep.
Seek treatment early. Don’t suffer unnecessarily. Help is available and effective.
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