INSOMNIA…When sleep becomes the enemy (Part 1)

As I tossed and turned on my bed last night and wished for sleep, I ironically thought about my decision to write about insomnia.

INSOMNIA. I didn’t give much thought to my poor sleeping habits until I mentioned it to a colleague at work one day and he said, ‘You need to go see a doctor.’ This response caught me off guard. Who in Nigeria goes to see a doctor to complain about sleep? My colleague’s suggestion was the first time I realized that it may be a serious problem – serious enough to seek medical help.

So let’s talk about insomnia. Its simplest definition is poor sleep. Poor sleep can mean waking up too early, not being able to get off to sleep, waking up for long periods in the night; and not feeling refreshed after a night’s sleep. So if you’re like me and you wake up and wait for your morning alarm to ring, you’re definitely a candidate for poor sleep. If you wake up at nights and have to count sheep to drift off again, sit up and pay attention to this write-up because poor sleep is your middle name. If it takes you a long while to sleep at the end of the day, please join the ‘operation sleep’ team. Medical experts believe that for most people it takes less than thirty minutes to fall asleep. If it takes you longer, it may be an indication of insomnia.

Research has brought to light the fact that our sleep requirements are as different as we are as human beings. While others can function effectively with 3-4 hours of sleep, others require say about 8-9 hours. I would really like to meet the ‘set awon 3-4 hours sleep geng’. They are such a lucky bunch! It has also been discovered that as you become older, it is normal to sleep less.

So what causes poor sleep? Anxiety, stress and depression are fingered as the most common causes of insomnia. Anger, grief, bipolar disorder and trauma (grouped under psychological and emotional causes) also are listed. Other causes of insomnia may be snoring (medically known as sleep apnoea) which causes the narrowing of the airways and reduces the amount of oxygen in the lungs, as such the snorer may wake up many times at night to breath properly.

Having certain illnesses may contribute to poor sleep e.g indigestion, mental health problem, hot flushes, coughs, leg cramps.Stimulants such as alchohol, caffeine and nicotine are not sleep-friendly. Street drugs such as cocaine, ecstasy, cannabis and amphetamines do your sleep no good. Some prescribed medication also have an effect on sleep. Diuretics, some anti-depressants, steroids, beta-blockers, some types of painkillers and some cold remedies can be added to this list. On-going scientific research to prove the relationship between screen time and insomnia has been in the news for years. One day soon, hopefully, the impact of electronic devices on sleep will have solid proof backing it.

It’s easy enough to dismiss insomnia as hogwash when it is experienced for a short time but over a long period, the consequences are not entirely pretty:

  • Irritability: When you find yourself constantly snapping at the slightest provocation or having to refrain from biting off someone’s head for the smallest mishap (in some cases, you may actually not be able to refrain)
  • Poor concentration: Your head feels all woozy and you struggle to fix your attention on the task you have at hand.
  • Tiredness or fatigue in the day time: Do I need to explain this? In my own case, I’m so burnt out even though my work hours haven’t increased, I literally can’t wait to dash home from work and dive into bed. (Anything my colleagues are doing or telling me when its 5 minutes to close of business, hmmmm….they are on their own o!)
  • Inability to do things well
  • Loss of interest in usual activities.

The consequences listed above will ultimately result in a worse quality of life. I’m sure you figured that out by yourself already though!

*To be concluded

**Ogonna Kanu originally wrote this article for a magazine. It has been slightly modified for the DHI blog.

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