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Sleep disorders: Understanding and curing

Sleeping disorders can seriously affect your vitality and work efficiency. Ahram Online gets the lowdown from some experts

Ingy Deif, Friday 5 Oct 2012
photo: reuters
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Views: 2032

"Unfortunately, the stresses of a busy schedule affect a major factor in your wellbeing, which is good sleep," said Hala Khattar, life coach and yoga instructor.

Khattar told Ahram Online that she has many people come to her complaining of symptoms of sleep deprivation, including "lethargy, weak memory, indulgence in food, and general fatigue, all of which disappeared after solving this problem."

"We always stress on the importance of quality as well as on quantity, as occasional waking during sleep will leave a person fatigued at the end," Khattar said, citing a Harvard study on nurses that showed that the risk of heart attack for those who slept less than five hours a day for ten years increased by almost 40 per cent, compared with those who regularly slept for eight full hours.

Understanding disorders

"In Egypt, we lack awareness of sleep problems due to many factors: no undergraduate curriculum for sleep disorders, few physicians who specialise in sleep, few places with sleep study facilities, and finally a lack of awareness among Egyptians that sleep has disorders and treatments other than the conventional sleeping pills," says Ahmed El-Ajhouri, specialist in psychiatry and sleep medicine studies at Ain Shams University.

El-Ajhouri categorises the many different kinds of sleep problems into three main branches: decreased sleep, increased sleep and disturbed sleep.

"Insomnia is the most common problem people encounter in their daily lives and we usually treat the problem through behavioural psychotherapy, before resorting to sleeping pills," he said.

"Another common sleep disorder is sleep apnea, especially obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), which is attacks of breathing cessations during sleep that affects sleep efficiency, body weight, blood pressure and daytime performance. OSA has an effective treatment, which is the continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) mask."

El-Ajhouri stressed the importance of raising awareness of sleep apnea and its treatment, as many patients in Egypt suffer from hypertension and stroke, and are at higher risk for OSA.

A third common sleep disorder is restless leg syndrome, which is an unpleasant sensation in the legs at night that hinders good sleep. It is common during pregnancy, as well with certain other conditions.

Abnormal sleep-related behaviours like walking, talking, eating, sex, violence and so on are not that common, according to El-Ajhouri, but awareness is also important as they may be particularly common for example during childhood.

Sleep terrors, bedwetting, and sleepwalking are common genetic problems in children that run in families. Sexual behaviour (sexsomnia) or violent behaviour during sleep is a recent concern in forensic medicine, which in Egypt are mostly recorded in drug addicts undergoing treatment.

Simple steps

"The power of deep sleep is enormous for countering stress and boosting immunity," agrees Abdel Hadi Mesbah, professor of immunology and professor of the American Academy of Immunology.

"We always advise finding out the reason that is keeping you awake as a first step, and if you find out that the problem is not true insomnia which needs treatment, certain measures can prove useful."

Hadi Mesbah advises sufferers to orient their sleeping position so that their head points to the north and feet to the south, as this comes in harmony with the magnetic field of the earth, providing the body with maximum energy, and helps to achieve a higher level of comfort and relaxation.

He also stresses the importance of not going to bed unless you have the urge to sleep, and if you are not asleep after thirty minutes, engaging in some other activity that is soothing and relaxing.

Other tips offered include: setting a fixed time for getting into and out of bed and not using the bed for anything except for sleeping, for example reading or watching television.

Avoid watching television at least half an hour before going to bed, and reading should be restricted to simple uncomplicated materials.

Avoid all kinds of caffeine in beverages or chocolate as well as nicotine six hours before retiring.

Avoid overheating the bedroom, and take a short warm bath an hour or two before sleeping.

Relaxation techniques such as yoga are helpful, in addition to massages that relax the stiff muscles of the body after a long hectic day.

Calcium and tryptophan in a hot glass of milk can induce sleep and relaxation, in addition to other soothing herbal drinks, provided that you drink it fifteen minutes before retiring.

One of the biggest mistakes is taking sleeping pills or sedatives on regular basis, as a doctor must keep track of their consumption to avoid total reliance.

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