The continued lack of restful sleep may lead to some detrimental physical and emotional health consequences.
The South African Society of Sleep Medicine describes Insomnia as an experience of inadequate or poor quality sleep that may include; difficulty falling asleep or maintaining sleep, waking up to early or having non refreshing sleep.
Nearly 30 to 40% of adults in South Africa will experience difficulty sleeping at least once during any given year. According to SASSM “one third of patients seen in the primary health care setting experience difficulty sleeping, and 10 % of those may have chronic sleep problems”.
Cornelia Scholtz, a Clinical Psychologists says that “anxiety and stress are some of the biggest triggers that cause sleeping disturbances. Increased levels of stress and anxiety often lead to a heightened sense of arousal that hinders people from getting enough good quality sleep during the night”.
Scholtz adds that it is very important to remember that certain medical conditions can also cause sleeping problems. “I always send my clients to a medical doctor for a full blood count to eliminate the possibility of a medical condition that may be causing their sleep disturbances before I continue with therapy.”
Medical conditions that may lead to difficulty sleeping include arthritis, cancer, an overactive thyroid, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. People that suffer from chronic pain, the need to urinate frequently during the night or breathing difficulties may also experience insomnia.
According to Scholtz, it is important to make your bedroom a ‘safe space’ in your home. “Make sure that your bedroom is clean, uncluttered and dark. Turn off electronic clocks or equipment with flashing lights that are in your bedroom so that you are not exposed to any kind of sensory stimulation during the time that you are supposed to sleep.”
Poor sleeping habits and working irregular shifts may also hinder people from getting adequate sleep. “I strongly recommend that you have a ‘switch off time’ at least half an hour before you go to bed where you do relaxing breathing exercises to prepare your mind and body to enter a stage of rest and calmness,” says Scholtz.
Sleeping disturbances may become more prevalent with age. The use of over the counter drugs such as painkillers or weight-loss supplements that contain stimulants and caffeine can also cause sleep disturbances.
Dr. Gerhard Schoonbee, a medical doctor says the importance of enough sleep has to be emphasised. “When you sleep your body releases hormones that you need to think, concentrate and remember. Many people struggle to concentrate during the day because they do not get enough sleep during the night. A lack of sleep may also lead to moodiness, weight gain, irritability and even depression.”