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Neurologist warns against indiscriminate use of sleeping pills

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-Says self-medication no solution to sleeping disorders

Amarachi Okeh

A neurologist, Prof. Ikenna Onwuekwe, has warned persons suffering from sleep disorders against the indiscriminate use of sleeping pills.

According to Onwuekwe, engaging in self-medication by indiscriminately taking sleeping pills is not only a wrong way to treat sleep disorders, it could also be dangerous.

Onwuekwe who is a professor of Neurology at the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital, Enugu stressed that it is wrong to use sleeping tablets to treat sleep disorders, noting that it was always important to first find out the type and cause of the health condition.

Some sleep disorders, he said, cannot be treated with sleeping pills.

 The neurologist explained that there are different types of sleep disorders, adding that insomnia is not a single issue because it has different facets.

Sleep disorders, according to myclevelandclinic.org – a medical news site, are conditions that impair sleep or prevent people from getting restful sleep and, as a result, can cause daytime sleepiness and other symptoms.

Onwuekwe, who is also the head of the neurology unit at UNTH, stressed that every sleep disorder has to be properly assessed and classified noting that they are not all the same, including insomnia.

“Even insomnia has different facets to it and the management is not all the same. Every case has to be properly investigated and managed properly with the primary health condition that is causing it.

“It is only when you cannot find the primary cause that you now treat it symptomatically,” he said.

The consultant neurologist noted that sleep is a multistage procedure that involves several neurological segments.

“Each segment can be where the problem lies. For instance, there’s a stage we call the initiation phase of sleep, which is how you get to sleep.

“When you have now slept off, we talk about the realm sleep, when people dream. We talk about non-realm sleep when people don’t dream. There’s also the duration of sleep, then we talk about how satisfactory the sleep is.

“So, you can have about four or five sub-stages to analyse in that person who complained of difficulty in sleeping.

“One person can have a problem only with falling asleep. He can lie awake for a long time and then sleep off and sleep very well.

“But another person can tell you that he has no problem falling asleep, just that when he sleeps, he wakes up after one and half hours and is not able to go back to sleep again.

“While another person will tell you that he has no problem falling asleep and sleeping for six or seven hours but that he wakes up in between because of nightmares. You look at that person’s realm stage of sleep and know what is wrong with him,” Onwuekwe explained.

He added that people with prior neurological or psychiatric conditions like epilepsy who do not get enough daily sleep also risk having more seizures.

The neurologist also stated that people who may have mental, physical, surgical, or cardiac issues could suffer from sleep disorders as it is a sign of such looming health challenges.

Onwuekwe advised that people who suffer from sleep disorders should see a neurologist to get optimal analyses and treatment.

Regarding how many hours of sleep an adult should get, the consultant neurologist said between six to seven hours of daily sleep is sufficient for an adult, noting that sleeping shorter or longer than these hours could cause harm to the health and could also lead to death.

“If you sleep shorter than 7 hours or longer than 9 hours daily, studies have shown that you may die earlier than you should.

“Non-satisfactory sleep causes its own problems. It is associated with high blood pressure, acute cardiac conditions like heart attack, obesity, increased risk of stroke, and diabetes. These problems are the same with people who sleep too much as well.”

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