More on “Sleep and Mental Health”

One typical question psychiatrists always have to answer is;
“Doctor, why are you giving me sleeping pills?”.
In fact, our major drugs were previously regarded as “Major” or “Minor” “tranquillizers” (laying emphasis on the ability of the drugs to induce changes in the pattern of sleep).
When we prescribe these medications for treating mental illness, we target alterations in emotion or behaviour. This is asides the effect of the medications on abnormal sleep patterns. We are always aware of the fact that a change in sleep is simply one of the symptoms of mental disorders or (putting it more lightly) emotional or psychological disturbances. This helps us to be holistic in our approach towards managing patients who are mentally ill. Therefore, though the drugs could improve sleep, psychiatrists don’t prescribe them only because of their effect on sleep.

Another common question is ” “Doctor, how much sleep do I need?”. The actual length (duration) of sleep is not more relevant than the ability of the sleep episode to ensure restoration and repair of the mind and body with no impairment in functioning. Babies sleep for not less than 20 hours daily. As they grow older, the duration of sleep will gradually reduce. It is widely accepted that most people will need between 6-8 hours of sleep every night. Sleeping for just 5 hours or less is not healthy for someone who is within the middle-age category or younger. This is because anyone who is very active is prone to lots of physical wear and tear from body metabolism with an accumulation of body wastes and toxins. Just 5 hours of sleep (or less) might not be enough to get rid of all these and revitalize the body.  While the elderly may have shorter durations of sleep at a stretch, they tend to compensate with their intermittent daytime naps and lesser activities.

Insomnia is a common sleep disorder characterized by a marked decrease in the duration of sleep. It could occur as an illness on its own or as a symptom of another existing illness. The opposite of this is hypersomnia. This is excessive sleep. Some individuals experience some abnormal behavioral challenges during sleep. These include sleepwalking, sudden loss of body tone with falls described as sleep drop attacks etc. Any of these conditions can present with associated change in personality or overt behavioral or emotional issues.  All these are best treated by qualified medical personnel.

In this part of the world where quackery seems difficult to check, we commonly see individuals who have ignorantly become dependent on sleeping pills because someone prescribed these drugs for them without following the guidelines for the use of these drugs. A lot of drug retailers criminally dispense such drugs indiscriminately thereby putting the mental health of these ignorant persons in jeopardy.

What do you do if you aren’t satisfied with your sleep?

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Ola Ibigbami

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