Sleep Problems, Their Treatment and Management

Introduction

Sleep disorder is one of the most common health problems in the United States. According to a report by Harvey and Buysse (31), over 75% of Americans aged over 18 years report having some form of sleep problems. It is common for someone suffering from different health problems to lack proper sleep. Headache, stomachache, and different physiological discomfort may make it difficult for an individual to have a quality sleep at the intended time. Stress is also known to be one of the main reasons why people lack proper sleep at night. However, Idzikowski (29) reports that some people experience problems falling asleep even when they are mentally and physiologically healthy.

Lack of proper sleep may have a serious health impact on an individual. People who report having problems falling asleep also report other mental health problems. Their performance at work or school drop because the brain does not get enough time to reenergize for the next day’s activities. Such a person will also feel physically tired because the body does not get time to relax. Doctors may prescribe drugs meant to help an individual to have a peaceful sleep. Such medication may only address the symptoms of the problem without eliminating it completely. When one fails to take such medication, the problem may become worse. It can also reach a time when the body becomes too used to the medication that its effectiveness becomes compromised. In this research paper, the primary focus is to discuss sleep problems and how they can be treated or managed.

Discussion

According to Redline and Berger (61), having a good sleep, whether it is at night or during the day, is critical for the body and mind. After engaging in day-long activities, the body and the mind need to rest to be able to perform the following day optimally. However, that is not often the case for most people. The sleep problem may just be a symptom of a physical or mental problem that resolves as soon as the underlying cause is addressed. However, it may last longer in some cases, making it necessary to seek medical attention. Depending on the diagnosis, the approach that would be taken to treat or manage the problem may vary. In this section, it will be important to compare how people used to sleep in the past and compare it with the sleeping pattern in the modern-day before focusing on specific sleep problems and how they can be managed.

How People Used to Sleep in the Past

In a report by Redline and Berger (55), it is evident that the sleep pattern in the past is slightly changing compared with what is the case in modern society. In the 18th and 19th centuries, American society highly valued the institution of marriage and family setting. The 24-hour economy that is currently popular in the country had not taken proper shape, although a few industrial sector companies had some of their employees working at night. It meant that for most of the families, the sleeping pattern was relatively regular. People spent most of the day-time working and slept at night.

According to Harvey and Buysse (45), having a regular sleeping pattern is very critical, especially among individuals aged more than 45 years. It sets the mind for sleep at a given hour and reduces cases of sleep problems. It does not mean that in those days, there were no sleeping problems. The main difference between what was the case then and what it is now is that in the past, the problem was not as prevalent as it is today. People reported the problem, but it was less severe. Idzikowski (43) reports that in the past, heavy reliance on prescription medicine for sleep was not as common as it is today. It is apparent that the problem has been worsening despite the technological inventions in the field of medicine and the emergence of better means of managing various health problems.

Reasons Why Sleeping Problems Are Occurring Now

It is necessary to note that sleep problems are not an emerging health issue. It has been in existence for as long as the history of humankind. The only issue is that the problem is getting worse. The number of people getting affected by the problem is increasing, and that is a major concern to many people. The number of people suffering from various sleep problems is alarmingly high. A study by Lal (19) shows that over three-quarters of adult Americans have different forms of health problems based on records obtained from health institutions. The number could be higher than that because a significant portion of people suffers in silence instead of seeking medical attention. Others even believe that lack of sleep cannot be classified as a health problem, and as such, do not even find a reason to seek medical attention. It is advisable to look at some of the reasons why sleeping problems are becoming common in modern society.

Rosenberg (42) explains that one of the leading reasons why sleep problems are becoming common is stress. It is true that technology is making life more enjoyable and work easier than it has been in the past. However, stress is becoming a common problem that is affecting very many people. One of the main sources of stress is work-related pressures. The need to complete a given assignment within a specific time and in an expected manner can be demanding both physically and mentally. Sometimes the deadlines are so tight that it forces an individual to spend more time at work than had been intended. Lal (42) explains that there is also the need to climb the career ladder. The promotion that one needs to get can only come if the management is convinced about one’s capacity and commitment to the firm. In an effort to demonstrate capabilities and commitment, some people push themselves to the limit. They forget their social life and immerse themselves in work, having limited time with family and friends. If the trend continues, such an individual may develop stress disorders. The problem is common among corporate white-collar workers in the country. In other cases, stress may be caused by highly demanding managers or supervisors who are keen on identifying and pointing out mistakes but remain silent when an excellent job has been done. As the level of work-related stress builds up, one cannot avoid sleep problems.

Stress can also be caused by family issues. Unlike in the past, many people find it difficult to maintain successful families. Idzikowski (89) observes that in the 18th and 19th centuries, many American women were not as actively involved in the corporate world as is the case today. Men were expected to provide for their families, while women were expected to take care of the children and family matters. That is no longer the case. Women are not as successful as men in the corporate world. This progress has, however, had a negative impact on family settings. Most parents are rarely at home. Some are faced with situations that make it near impossible for a husband and a wife to have quality time together because of their work.

Such issues cause strains in families. The emerging technologies have made it easy for spouses to determine if their partners are cheating on them. They take a lot of effort in finding out if the partner is unfaithful, only to be stressed up when their fears are confirmed. Such issues make families very delicate. Cases of divorce are common in the current society. Aitken (62) notes that many men and women consider divorce as the best solution to family-related stress, especially in cases of infidelity. However, they come to realize that life becomes even more stressful than before when they have to raise the children without the emotional and financial support of the other partner. These are issues that make people have sleepless nights as they struggle to think of the best solutions.

Common Forms of Sleeping Problems

People suffer from different forms of sleep problems. The causes of these problems and their duration vary depending on numerous factors. The approach that is needed to manage or treat each of them may also vary. The following are some of the most common sleep problems in modern American society:

Insomnia

Harvey and Buysse (78) define insomnia as the inability of an individual to sleep well at night. The condition may be caused by jet lag, stress, a medical condition, or the type of medication that one is taking. Taking coffee a few minutes before going to bed is also known to cause problems falling asleep. Anxiety or depression may also make it impossible for one to fall asleep at night. The cause of insomnia may determine the length of time it will last and the nature of treatment that is necessary. When it is caused by jet lag, it may not be necessary to take any form of medication because it quickly resolves itself after taking some time to rest. It is caused by anxiety or depression, then the best approach is to address the primary cause. Espie (67) notes that when one is able to resolve the cause of anxiety or depression, the problem easily gets to be addressed. When it is caused by the medication that one is taking, then it may be necessary to seek advice from a physician. In most cases, the best way of dealing with such a problem is to change the medication. Other common ways of addressing the problem of insomnia are to redefine daytime habits, improve sleep hygiene, and learn to relax the mind (Wilson and Nutt 49). These strategies help in reducing mental stress and increases the chances of falling asleep.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

It is a condition that is characterized by difficulty in breathing when one is asleep (Redline and Berger 92). It is a manageable condition that affects many people around the world. The patient experiences conditions where the breaching stops temporarily when asleep. When that happens, one is awakened by a feeling of being choked. The more the breathing stops during sleep, the more one will be forced to wake up at night. In some cases, one may not even remember that they were awakened several times at night. However, they may experience symptoms such as depression, irritability, and reduced productivity during the day (Richardson and Friedman 45).

The disorder is potentially life-threatening, especially when the breathing can be obstructed for a long time and one fails to wake up to address the problem. Common symptoms of the problem include chronic snoring, gasping when asleep, pauses in breathing, daytime fatigue, and waking up at night with a feeling of struggling to breathe (Rosenberg 53). Overweight and a family history of apnea are some of the main causes of the problem. The problem is common among blacks and pacific islanders. One of the ways of managing this problem is to maintain regular exercise with the aim of reducing excess weight. It is also advisable to quit taking alcohol and smoking as a way of improving one’s health. Those suffering from this problem should avoid heavy meals, coffee and must strive to maintain regular hours of sleep (Aitken 69).

Restless-Leg Syndrome

Restless leg syndrome is a neurological disorder that causes an irresistible urge to shift the legs or arms at night (Richardson and Friedman 52). Medical experts attribute this problem to limited levels of iron in the brain or an imbalance of dopamine (Stores 85). The number of those suffering from this problem is understated in healthcare records. This is so because over 90% of Americans, including those with advanced educational backgrounds, do not even realize that having restless limbs at night is a problem. They never report it and rarely seek medication, thinking that it is a natural habit. The problem is genetic, and the majority of those who develop the problem have some of their family members who faced the problem. In most cases, it starts when a person is about 18 years, and it worsens with time. Pregnant women may also experience the problem, especially if they fail to take food rich in iron regularly.

A report by Wilson and Nutt (59) shows that one can address this problem without necessarily taking any medication. One of the first steps that sufferers need to take is to avoid stress. Stress is known to cause restlessness in mind, which is then expressed by constant body movement. It is also recommended that one should reduce intake of alcohol. Excessive drinking worsens symptoms of restless leg syndrome. Excessive drinking and smoking are also known to worsen the problem, and as such, should be avoided. It is also advisable to take foods rich in iron, magnesium, vitamin D, and folic acid (Stores 96). Embracing a culture of regular exercise and maintaining a regular sleep pattern may also improve the condition of a patient.

Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder

Some people find it difficult to fall asleep in a standard time, say by ten in the evening, to enable them to wake up within the right time to prepare for other duties of the day. It is important to understand that sometimes a person may make a decision to stay till late at night because of personal reasons. However, those with delayed sleep phase disorder have a problem with their biological watch and cannot avoid it even when they want to sleep early (Rosenberg 87). They end up waking up late in the day. It is important to note that these individuals end up having a peaceful sleep if they are not having any other psychological or physiological problems. However, the problem that they face is socio-economic in nature. The societal duties cannot allow one to sleep till mid-day. If one is a student, he or she should be in class by eight in the morning.

Adults are also expected to be at work at around the same time. It means that this condition may have a serious impact on their socio-economic life. The problem is common among teenagers. For those who suffer from this problem, Espie (42) observes that one of the best ways of managing it is through a modified chronotherapy (Richardson and Friedman 78). This strategy involves forcing one to stay awake for 24 hours and then making them go to bed 90 minutes earlier than their usual time. They have to maintain the new time of sleeping for one week before taking another 24 hours without sleep to start the process all over again. The procedure will be repeated severally until such a time that the individual is able to sleep and wake up at the required time. It is highly recommended that such an individual should maintain the new timetable to avoid relapsing.

Sleepwalking

Sleepwalking is a disorder that is characterized by a combination of sleep and wakefulness. Also known as noctambulism or somnambulism, it is classified as a disorder of the parasomnia family (Wilson and Nutt 80). It occurs at a stage of low consciousness where one ends up performing duties that require full consciousness. The activities may be mild, such as sitting in bed or moving slightly out of bed before coming back. It can progress to walking to the bathroom or away from the house and coming back to bed safely. Others end up performing household chores such as cooking, washing, and cleaning. The problem can take hazardous twists such as driving or undertaking activities that may pose a serious threat to the sleepwalker or people near them. In other extreme cases, a sleepwalker may become violent or even commit suicide. It is not easy to predict actions that a sleepwalker may take. Most of these actions are unintended, and it means that they can harm their loved ones without knowing it.

These actions may take a short time, such as thirty seconds, or last for as long as 30 minutes before the sleepwalker can get to bed or wakes up from the state of unconsciousness. The primary cause of sleepwalking is not known, though studies suggest that those whose parents suffer from sleepwalking are likely to develop the problem. Fever, excessive tiredness, and fever may also be possible causes of sporadic sleepwalking. According to Aitken (42), the clinical trials are yet to come up with pharmacological or psychological interventions that can help in addressing sleepwalking disorders. However, a number of measures are often taken in an effort to address this problem. Some of the common interventions include anticipatory walk, assertion training, sleep hygiene, management of aggressing feelings, and play therapy. In some patients whose sleepwalking pattern poses a danger to themselves of family members may require classical conditioning such as electric shock to help in dealing with the condition.

Night Terrors

This sleep disorder is characterized by a feeling of dread and terror that often occurs in the first few hours of sleep (Rosenberg 30). The problem is common among children aged 3 to 12 years. It stops at the adolescent stage. In adults, the problem may affect individuals aged 20 to 30 years. The intensity of the problem may vary from one individual to another. The affected individuals may have constant nightmares and night terrors. This problem has been in existence since time immemorial, affecting 6% of children and 1% of adults all over the world (Stores 113). Its universal feature is regular panic attacks at night. The victims may scream while in their sleep. They often report encountering serious threats to their lives and the inability to escape, leaving them with one option of screaming. They wake up from such nightmares tired and gasping for breath. They tend to be confused when they wake up, and among adults, they may be embarrassed at the fact that they screamed for help. Many of these patients are unable to have a proper recollection of what happened after they wake up. Espie (63) explains that the problem is more common among those suffering from generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It is believed that the majority of those who suffer from this problem inherit it from their parents.

The problem affects more women than men. When it comes to the management of the problem, age is one factor that must be considered. In children, it may not be necessary to administer any medication. Instead, the child may need to be reassured of his security and safety every night. Lal (70) recommends that such children should not sleep alone. They should sleep in environments that make them feel safe when falling asleep. Evidence-based studies suggest that people who get to sleep feeling threatened are more likely to have night terrors than those who feel they are safe. Parents should be assured that the affected child will outgrow the problem. Among adults, some form of treatment may be necessary to address the problem. Psychotherapy is recommended to help address the problem. In such sessions, the counselor will try to understand the fears of the patient that may manifest in their sleep. The goal is often to address these concerns and to eliminate or reduce levels of stress among the patient. It may be necessary to prescribe tricyclic antidepressants when going to bed to help the patient have a peaceful night’s sleep.

Conclusion

Sleep disorders affect many people around the world. In the United States, it is estimated that two-thirds of the entire population is affected in one way or the other. The problem may vary from having nightmares to feelings of tiredness and sleepwalking. As shown in the paper, some of these problems are symptoms of serious medical problems, while others may be the primary cause of major medical problems such as stroke when the brain is deprived of oxygen because of the inability to breathe properly when one is asleep. Others such as sleepwalking may pose serious physical harm to the affected individuals or people around them, especially when their actions become aggressive. It is important to address sleep problems as soon as they are diagnosed to avoid their negative socio-economic and physiological consequences.

Works Cited

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