Sleep disruption is a plague of the modern society. In the world full of cell phones, social media, and gadgets constantly sending reminders, we are continuously distracted. We can learn how to limit our dependence of sleep disruptors, but all of us who own a smartphone experienced their addictive nature. We justify it quite easily, “Let me see what’s new on this social media platform,” only to find ourselves 20 videos later unsure what we have watched for the past hour.
Sleep disorders have many causes, many are still not well understood. Charlotte Brontë writes, “A ruffled mind makes a restless pillow.” Stress is another major sleep disruptor, but many causes for sleep disorders have unknown biological origins. Sleep is critical to our health and lack of good quality sleep increases our risk for chronic conditions such as, heart attack, stroke or depression.
Many of issues associated with sleep disorders are described in a book by Guy Leschziner, “The Nocturnal Brain.” Leschziner, a neurologist and sleep physician, depicts sleep struggles of his patients he treated over the years. One story in particular struck my attention, as it described middle-aged woman called Janice who would wake up in the middle of the night feeling as if she was choking. Many people struggle to fall asleep, and equally many wake up multiple times per night unable to fall asleep. For her, sleep became terrifying. Janice lived misdiagnosed for many decades. Due to her difficult upbringing, and history of behavioral issues, her symptoms were largely dismissed. Since early childhood she was “treated” with antipsychotic and sedative drugs.
As patients, we want to believe in medical testing. However, many sleep disorders do not have a test, or the test is not always able to detect the underlaying cause. This is very true with sleep disorders. Luckily for Janice, the right doctor took her symptoms seriously. Janice was diagnosed with recurring seizures, and was helped with anti-epileptic medication. Her seizures were located in the brain area difficult to measure by the electroencephalogram, (EEG), a machine capable of measuring electrical brain activity. Unfortunately, her story is not unique. There are many people like Janice. I hope in the near future we will be able to detect and treat more sleep related issues.
For more sleep related issues and diagnoses I strongly recommends the book by Guy Leschziner. You will never look at sleep the same way ever again.