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Stress and sleep

Do you experience difficulty sleeping?

Do you have difficulty falling or staying asleep?

Does your lack of sleep affect the quality of your work?

What happens when as a result of a lack of sleep mistakes are made and some one gets hurt?

How many times have you been described as a “bat” because you are awake half of the night and only fall asleep as the sun starts to rise?

Does the midnight shift require you to sleep in the day?

How does this affect your other social and personal responsibilities?

Doctors have described this activity as insomnia, or sleeplessness.

There is a rapidly expanding industry that caters to providing sleep aids or over-the-counter pharmacy solutions for persons who are reporting sleeping problems. The majority of these products, according to the manufacturers, are not habit forming or addictive.

However, industry sales suggest that there is a major portion of the western world’s population, including the Caribbean, who are now experiencing significant difficulty in sleeping without the aid of an over-the-counter solution.

Family doctors have been reporting an increase in requests from their patients for prescriptions to assist them in sleeping; due to what some patients have described as the “pressures from work”, “the death of a family member”, “loss of a job”, “the baby’s crying won’t let me sleep”.

Increased social stresses and associated work related issues may be contributing factors as why some people cannot sleep; but it does not explain the entire problem.

Medical professionals have described it as a sleep disorder in which there is an inability to fall asleep or to stay asleep as long as desired. Insomnia is most often thought of as both a sign and a symptom that can accompany several medical and psychiatric disorders characterised by a persistent difficulty falling asleep and/or staying asleep or sleep of poor quality.

Insomnia is typically followed by functional impairment or an impaired ability to perform some highly technical tasks while awake. Impaired driving can in some cases be attributed to insomnia.

Insomnia can occur at any age, but it is particularly common in the elderly. Insomnia can be short term (up to three weeks) or long term (above three to four weeks), which can lead to memory problems, depression, irritability and an increased risk of heart disease and automobile related accidents.

Those who are having trouble sleeping sometimes turn to sleeping pills, which can help when used occasionally but may lead to dependence or addiction if used regularly for an extended period.

Insomnia can be classified as transient, acute, or chronic. Transient insomnia lasts for less than a week. It can be caused by another disorder, by changes in the sleep environment, by the timing of sleep, severe depression, or by stress. Its consequences – sleepiness and impaired psychomotor performance – are similar to those of sleep deprivation.

Acute insomnia is the inability to consistently sleep well for a period of less than a month. Insomnia is present when there is difficulty initiating or maintaining sleep or when the sleep that is obtained is non-refreshing or of poor quality. These problems occur despite adequate opportunity and circumstances for sleep and they must result in problems with daytime function. Acute insomnia is also known as short term insomnia or stress related insomnia. Chronic insomnia lasts for longer than a month. It can be caused by another disorder, or it can be a primary disorder.

People with high levels of stress hormones or shifts in the levels of cytokines are more likely to have chronic insomnia. Its effects can vary according to its causes. They might include muscular fatigue, hallucinations, and/or mental fatigue.

Some people who live with this disorder see things as if they are happening in slow motion, wherein moving objects seem to blend together. Chronic insomnia can cause double vision.

It is recommended that before you begin to treat insomnia or self medicate yourself into the hospital, you need to identify some of the factors that maybe contributing to your lack of sleep. Having frank and open conversations with your doctor, including describing your moods or behaviours will be of critical importance to determining why you cannot sleep.

Does your current work situation make you feel depressed or anxious? Could your insomnia be caused by pain, medications, disruptions in your life due friends and family extending their stay in your home? Has your work routine been drastically altered? Could caffeine (coffee), alcohol, nicotine (cigarettes) or spicy foods play a part in your difficulty sleeping?

Questions you answer with honesty may significantly help your doctor correctly diagnosis the problem.

Insomnia can have a very serious impact on quality of life, productivity and safety: People with insomnia are four times more likely to suffer from depression than people who sleep well. Lack of sleep due to insomnia may contribute to illness, including heart disease.

Safety on the job, at home, and on the road may be affected by sleepiness. People with insomnia may miss more time from work or receive fewer promotions. After a poor night’s sleep, many people have reported accomplishing fewer daily tasks and enjoying social activities less.

Lack of sleep can also affect how persons in high risk work environments perform. Research among fire services, law enforcement and the military have indicated that there is a significant loss in performance among personnel who show symptoms of fatigue or lack of sleep.

This loss in performance can at times, become life threatening, or contribute directly to a disaster scenario. Here are some reported disaster scenarios which investigators have indicated that lack of sleep, or fatigue were among the contributing factors of these incidents:

* Three Mile Island, USA — Experts believe fatigue may have been a contributing factor that caused the 1979 meltdown at the Three Mile Island nuclear generator in Pennsylvania occurred at 4 a.m., and was made by operators working the night shift.

* Chernobyl, Russia — The accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the Ukraine is the worst nuclear disaster in history occurring at 1:26 a.m. on April, 26 1986. The cause of the disaster has been partially attributed to human error caused by confusion and fatigue as reported by Russian authorities investigating the disaster.

* Auto accidents, worldwide — Research clearly shows that tired drivers or drinking and driving pose a direct danger to themselves, their passengers, and everyone else who shares the road.

If you have difficulty falling asleep, or you wake up feeling more tired than before, consider the possibility that you may be suffering from insomnia. Insomnia is a symptom.

The medical fraternity has reported that it may be caused by stress, anxiety, depression, disease, pain, medications, sleep disorders or poor sleep habits. Your sleep environment and health habits may affect how you function socially and professionally; rather than fix the problem with an over-the-counter solution, ask you doctor first.

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