Sunday, May 8, 2011

Sleeplessness, sleep disturbances, insomnia and parasomnias

Sleepless in Pune. Sleeplessness, disturbed sleep, and shift work related sleep problems are interfering with our citizens recovery after a hard days (nights) work. Insomnias and parasomnias are common sleep problems. Once recognised these are treatable.
  • Does it take you more than 30 minutes to fall asleep at night?
  • Do you wake up too early or frequently at night and have difficulty going back to sleep?
  • Do you feel groggy and lethargic when you wake up?
  • Do you feel drowsy during the day?
  • Do you depend on coffee to get through the day?

If you answer "yes" to any of the above questions; you have a sleep problem. You are not alone. 9-18% of adults suffer from treatable insomnia

What is insomnia?

The inability to fall asleep or remain asleep is insomnia (Latin for ‘no sleep’). In a broader sense insomnia is the inability to get the amount of sleep you need to wake up feeling refreshed.

How much sleep do you need?
As a rule of thumb an adult requires 7-9 hours of sleep. However individual needs differ. You can gauge how much sleep you require by monitoring your own response to different amounts of sleep. Are you productive, healthy and happy on 7 hours sleep or does it require 9 hours of sleep to make you feel good?

What are the effects of chronic insomnia?
Sleeping too little inhibits productivity, ability to remember & consolidate information (cognitive impairment). Chronic insomnia also has serious health consequences and can jeopardize your safety and those of people near you.

Treating insomnia

  1. The first step to treating insomnia is to determine whether the insomnia is Primary i.e it is occurring independently from other disorders or Secondary i.e due to other associated medical conditions, (most importantly due to psychiatric disorders such as stress, depression, anxiety and panic disorder). The underlying condition needs to be addressed for the treatment to be effective.
    That is why our assessment includes a medical history, and a physical examination along with your sleep history and daily routine.
  2. Behavioural therapy is part of any treatment for insomnia. This includes:
    • Stimulus Control Therapy
    • Cognitive therapy
    • Sleep Restriction Therapy
  3. Medication most commonly used in treatment for sleep problems. It should be taken under medical supervision, after evaluation, and with appropriate sleep promoting practices.

Self medication and OTC drugs

Why you should avoid them
Medications which help induce and maintain sleep (sedatives and hypnotics) are prescription drugs the world over and for good reason. They can sometimes cause confusion, headaches, memory problems, daytime drowsiness leading to accidents at work and on the road, rebound insomnia when stopped suddenly after continued use. Many have drug interactions and some are addicting. You may develop tolerance and require larger doses.

Don’t let a pharmacist prescribe you a “safe” hypnotic. Consult a doctor who can treat your insomnia and the underlying cause. Follow your doctor’s instructions strictly about drug dosage, timing & duration and follow good sleep practices.

Alcohol and Sleep

Alcohol may help you to relax and thereby decrease the time taken to fall asleep, however sleep later in the night is fragmented and of poor quality. Continued use of alcohol can destroy normal sleep.

Shift work related sleep disorder

Shift work related sleep problems occur due to a lack of synchrony between the individual’s internal biological clock and the desired sleep-wake cycle. Frequently changing shifts, change from night or evening to daytime shifts are associated with greater sleep disorders.

The sleep disorder can vary from excessive sleepiness during the ‘wake’ period, to insomnia during the ‘sleep’ cycle. It is further aggravated by social commitments during weekends. The unsatisfactory quantity, quality and timing of sleep can cause marked distress and interference in daily functioning and living.

Parasomnias (sleep disturbing behaviours)


Repeated awakening from sleep with detailed and vivid recall of intensely frightening dreams. A major stressful life event precedes the onset in 60% of cases.

Sleep terrors

Repeated occasions of awakening from sleep beginning with a cry or scream and signs of extreme fright (sweating, rapid breathing, pounding heart) but with no recall of the content of dreams.


Repeated episodes of rising from bed and walking about for several minutes. The child has a blank, staring face, is relatively unresponsive and can be awakened only with considerable difficulty. Upon awakening there is no memory of the event.

Bedwetting or Sleep enuresis

Associated with severe embarrassment, shame and guilt, leading to lifelong psychosocial impairment. More common in children but also seen in 1% of the adult population, properly administered behavioural therapy with judicious medication is effective.

Principles of good sleep practice

You don't need to follow all the points at one shot. Select two or three of them that appeal to you. The first point is essential.
  • Set the alarm clock for a particular time and get up no matter how tired you are
  • Establish routine times for retiring and waking
  • Engage in quiet activities for about an hour or so before bedtime. Follow a relaxing bedtime routine and reduce ambient lighting 1 hour before bedtime
  • Avoid engaging in stressful activities or unpleasant tasks near bedtime
  • Avoid eating large meals and limit fluid intake immediately before bedtime
  • Avoid caffeine for at least 6 hours before bedtime
  • Exercise regularly but avoid exercising at least 3 hours before bedtime
  • Make your environment right, i.e. your bedroom should be quiet, dark, and at a comfortable temperature.
  • Use your bedroom only for sleep and sex, not for work or watching TV
  • Avoid daytime naps