Sleeplessness and insomnia have been associated with romance with long, lonely nights thinking about the beloved. But for those who have experienced firsthand the clinical side of the problem, sleep difficulties can affect us every single day of our lives, altering our mood and our ability to fulfill basic everyday tasks.
Dr Ahmed Eid Al-Ajhuri, a specialist in psychiatry and neurology at Ain Shams University, couldn’t agree more. "Sleep has been a subject of intense interest to poets and mystics and found in folklore since antiquity," he says. "Only in the latter half of the past century, scientists and physicians have attempted a systematic study of the biology and disorders of sleep.
Sleep deprivation has been linked to poor health, and may lead to obesity, diabetes and hypertension. A sleep-deprived person cannot perform their daily activities in a sound manner. One of the commonest examples is driving a car. Sleep disorders and disruption are responsible for more than 30 per cent of road traffic accidents.
"In Egypt, there is a lack of awareness of sleep problems due to many factors. There is no undergraduate curriculum for sleep disorders, only a few physicians specialise in this disorder and there are not many places with study facilities and an overall lack of knowledge that there are treatments other than the conventional sleeping pills," says Al-Ajhuri.
He sheds light on the most common cases. "There are more than 80 sleep disorders, but they can be grouped as decreased (insomnias), increased (hypersomnias) or disturbed (parasomnias, circadian disorders, etc) sleep. Insomnia, with all its types, is the most common," Al-Ajhuri explains. "There are a wide range of treatments from sleeping pills to cognitive and behavioural psychotherapy".
He went on to describe the symptoms of sleepapnoea, especially obstructive sleepapnoea(OSA), with attacks of stopping breathing during sleep which affects sleep efficiency, body weight, blood pressure and daytime performance. OSA can be effectively treated, with the continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) mask. The mask is a small bedside device connecting air to the patient while asleep through a face mask.
Another complaint is 'restless legs' syndrome, which is unpleasant sensations in the legs at night, hindering restful sleep as the sufferer paces to and fro in a effort to alleviate them. It is common during pregnancy.
Sleep-related abnormal behaviours (parasomisa) like walking, talking, eating, having sex or committing acts of violence during sleep are not common . Sleep terrors, confused arousal, enuresis, and sleepwalking (somnambulism) are common genetic parasomnias in children that run in families. Sexual behavior (sexsomnia) or violent behaviour during sleep is a recent concern in forensic medicine and has been encountered in addicts during periods of treatment.
Behavioural sleep medicine is a new wave in the management of sleep problems and is especially valuable for parents to control children's sleep problems, in addition to the management of different types of insomnias in adulthood.