Generic pic of woman sleeping

QUESTION: This letter is written at a time of my life when things seem so gloomy and my reserves are depleted. I don't know which way to turn as I don’t even have the energy to think about solutions.

The changes that have occurred since the birth of my baby girl three months ago, have shattered my control systems. Although I am currently not working, I cannot cope with the change in schedule as well as my severe sleep issues.

I am aware my routine is hectic and the demands of having a newborn are tough, but I have helped two of my sisters with their kids and can’t recall that they were ever so drained and despondent.

My mother says that she never ever had quality sleep after having children and still complains of insomnia.

Where and how do I start to fix this problem?

I simply cannot continue in such a miserable state and feel that my marriage is also suffering because of this.

Is there a way out of this and what about sleeping tablets? Are they all addictive?


ANSWER: We underestimate the role and importance of sleep in our daily lives. So many patients complain of sleep-related issues, like headaches and nausea and chronic stress symptoms.

Sleep is an essential part of health. Science shows that the brains needs at least seven hours a night to function optimally.

Your question applies to so many mothers who are trying to regain their independence and get back into a routine after having kids and returning to work.

The chemical hormones that regulate sleep are also influenced by emotional well-being and diet.


The path to recovery

The approach to dealing with insomnia should always comprise a detailed history of the onset, course and progression of symptoms. A sleep diary is often useful when seeing a doctor or therapist. This helps establish a timeline of events, as well as screen for possible associated triggers or circumstances.

Often, the main cause of insomnia is overstimulation.

Environment: Environment plays an important role when discussing sleep. Complete darkness is necessary as even the slightest glimmer of light can influence the pineal gland in the brain and how it regulates melatonin.

The temperature of the room and the suitability of your duvet or blanket must not be overlooked, as well as ventilation and sufficient oxygenation of the room.

The brain: The brain is a complex network of highly variable, but specialised, communications between its hemispheres and lobes. There are constant relaying electrical pathways at work for maintenance functions, even during sleep – like the formation and consolidation of long-term memory.


What is insomnia ?

Generally people fit into one of the following categories:

* Difficulty falling asleep.

* Waking up often during the night and having trouble going back to sleep.

* Waking up too early in the morning.

* Feeling tired upon waking.


Is it harmful?

Sleep deprivation not only affects your mood, but also disturbs the natural body rhythms – contributing to defective immune systems and hormone imbalances. Chronic sleep deprivation has serious physiological effects on the body’s homeostatic mechanisms.

Physical abilities are also challenged with a lack of sleep. Resting muscle tone and tension are influenced by insomnia. The primary senses like vision and hearing are often the first warning signs of too little sleep.


Is it genetic?

There are specific sleep disorders that have a proven inheritance pattern.


When should one seek help?

When insomnia is a persistent problem for more than two weeks and leads to poor functioning at work or home. If you find yourself struggling to maintain a survival sleep pattern of even four hours continuously without using medication, you need help.

The effects of sleep deprivation on your personality, character and general mood can be noticed by others before you are aware of it.


Sleeping tablets

There is a host of options when treating insomnia, ranging from natural herbs and teas to scheduled drugs which are addictive and often cause many side effects. The use of scheduled sleeping tablets to establish a sleep cycle is understandable for immediate effect – but long-term complications must be reviewed after two weeks.

Young people combine alcohol with medication, causing many tragic events, while older folk overmedicate and share pills. This, too, can be dangerous.


Dr Darren Green, a trusted figure in the field of media medicine, is a University of Stellenbosch graduate who adds innovative spark to health and wellness issues.

He features on 567CapeTalk, and is a regular guest on SABC3 and the Expresso show. Dr Green works as an emergency medical practitioner at a leading Cape Town hospital and completed four years of training as a registrar in the specialisation of neurology.

If you’ve got medical problems, contact the doctor at [email protected], 021 930 0655 or Twitter @drdarrengreen. Catch him in Cape Town on 567 CapeTalk, most Fridays at 1.30pm.

The advice in this column does not replace a consultation and clinical evaluation with a doctor.

Cape Argus