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Dreaming of sleep

by Archives September 11, 2002

Sleep is something that we all need. For many people especially students, however, a good night’s rest is an elusive dream. Studies report that insomnia afflicts about 15 to 20 per cent of the population. Whereas many people occasionally experience difficulty falling or staying asleep, chronic insomniacs have trouble sleeping for three or more weeks.

Hectic schedules and endless distractions make eight hours of sleep often impossible. Today’s generation has seen an incredible increase in stress and pressures and it shows in people’s sleeping patterns.

In 1910, the average person slept nine hours a night. In 1975, it was down to 7.5 hours. Higher education requires stronger dedication and heavier responsibilities. The amount of money someone once could survive on no longer is sufficient. The stresses of work can be overwhelming. While an ideal amount of sleep is eight to 10 hours, this is not always possible.

Insomnia causes daytime problems such as tiredness, lack of energy, irritability and difficulty concentrating.

The Oct. 23, 1999 issue of the medical journal Lancet carried a study from the University of Chicago Medical Center that claimed “chronic sleep loss reduces the capacity of even young adults to perform basic metabolic functions, such as processing and storing carbohydrates and regulating hormone secretion.”

Furthermore, while we physically recuperate during sleep, our brain actively repairs, re-organizes and consolidates memories. During deep sleep, our pituitary gland releases a growth hormone. Sleep deprivation impairs creativity and the body’s ability to fight disease and increases accidents.

An important thing for students to remember is that they can get help for their sleeping problems at Concordia’s Health Services. When asked what the worst thing that can happen when someone suffers from insomnia Owen Moran, the health educator, says,

“Your ability to function and to reach your life’s goals is affected. A great predicator of a good day is a good night’s sleep. You’re more productive. Studies show that performance drops with the less sleep you get.”

Although males and females of all age groups suffer from insomnia, it seems to be more common in females (especially after menopause). As well, the elderly (over 60) and those who have a history of depression are at a greater risk of experiencing insomnia.

To this list, 42-year-old Bonnie Francom, a 20-year veteran nurse who works in the Psychiatric Ward of the Montreal General Hospital, adds, “the anxious, people with new babies and people who have used drugs and are off of them. It can take up to a year more or less depending on who before a regular sleep habit develops for an ex-drug user.”

She says anxious people have either difficulty falling asleep, experience early morning awakenings or cannot sleep after waking up at night. Insomnia is a vicious circle, the problem being that “the more they think about it, the less they sleep; the less they sleep, the more they think about it.”

Recent research suggests teenagers need nine to 10 hours of sleep. Sadly, students often can find themselves the victims of insomnia. Cynthia Hebert is one such victim.

“Insomnia was a permanent part of my life all through high school. I was the most stressed out person you would ever meet. I would just lie awake all night worrying about life, school, friends, anything basically. You can’t sleep because worrying prevents you from sleeping. It’s a vicious circle. It’s hell,” says the 20-year-old education student at McGill.

Overtiredness does not help either. However, Hebert has gotten through her sleepless nights. “It takes forever to get out of the pattern,” she admits. “For now, I’ve gotten myself out of it.”

It is important to keep in mind though that chronic insomnia may also be due to drinking alcohol or smoking before bedtime, downing excessive amounts of caffeine, irregular or continually disrupted sleep/wake schedules, chronic stress or excessive napping.

Although sleeping pills may help, they are extremely addictive and aggravate insomnia by reducing REM sleep. Whereas going to a professional is sometimes necessary, natural techniques cost next to nothing. A regular sleeping/waking schedule should be abided by and eating large meals at least three hours before bed should be avoided. Practitioners also recommend progressive relaxation, hypnosis and audio tapes of soothing music.

Moran too strongly advocates a natural method to try to induce sleep. “I don’t recommend pharmaceutical help. Generally, the more you’re on, the more kickbacks you’ll have.”

The bottom line is that if professional help or simply exercising and cutting back on the cigarettes is the solution, the necessary measures must be taken. While the quest for sleep can be extremely difficult, it need not be impossible.

Don’t wait! To get help for your insomnia or sleep-related problems, Concordia’s Health Services can be reached by calling 848-3565 or visiting 2155 Guy Street and room 407 or 848-3575 and room AD-121-3.

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