By Katrin Marquez
Sleep is the body’s main means of restoration. Research findings have repeatedly proved that sleep deprivation puts one at risk for a number of health problems—everything from memory retention issues to a weakened immune system, high blood pressure and so forth. In fact, according to a study by Harvard Medical School, sustained sleep deprivation—consistently sleeping less than five hours per night—increases the chances of death by as much as fifteen percent. As such, it is imperative that sleep disorders be addressed in order to maintain a sound body and mind.
The term sleep disorder refers to any one of more than a hundred issues related to insufficient or low-quality sleep. Some sleep disorders include snoring, sleep apnea, insomnia and subconscious behaviors during sleep such as sleep walking or talking. Although the health consequences of these disorders range in severity, those concerned about their sleep quality usually do not consider seeking professional medical help.
Dr. Bae, a psychiatrist at Chonnam National University Hospital who specializes in sleep disorders and is a soon-to-be researcher at Sleep Sciences and Medicine Center, Stanford University, emphasizes the importance of sleep to one’s well-being.
“I meet patients with all sleep-related problems—with difficulty initiating or maintaining sleep, or early morning awakening, or occasions when they are awake and do not feel refreshed,” says Dr. Bae who has experience in treating foreigners with these issues. One of his biggest concerns regarding foreign patients is that their usual self-diagnosis of insomnia is frequently incorrect. He has had multiple foreign patients whose “insomnia” was actually a “secondary [symptom] of anxiety or depressive moods.”
Foreigners may be especially susceptible to these problems due to the lack of a support system that many experience, particularly at the beginning of their time in Korea when they face culture difference, for instance.
Although the repercussions of sleep disorders can be significant, small changes like refraining from exposure to blue lights (or Blue LED) before bed and napping during the day can alleviate some of those sleep issues.
“For most people with insomnia, lifestyle modification is effective [as a treatment],” says Dr. Bae. One tip he gives for those suffering from sleep disorders is easy to follow: Go outside. According to Dr. Bae, getting at least an hour of sun exposure before noon every day can “stimulate the optic nerves and reset one’s bio-rhythm.” He adds that about fifteen hours after the sunlight exposure, the body naturally prepares for sleep.
Lifestyle changes can fix many sleep-related issues; however, some circumstances require professional help. Situations in which Dr. Bae believes one should absolutely visit a doctor include: when those trials mentioned above fail, when there are associated symptoms like depression, anxiety or suicidal thoughts, when one suffers from functional impairment in work and study, and when the condition is chronic, lasting more than one month. Additionally, he wishes to remind foreigners that most university hospitals have a specialized foreigner clinic where patients may receive assistance in English. Chonnam National University Hospital’s foreigner clinic, for instance, is located on the first floor of the main building.
Sleep disorder is a significant health concern due not only to the discomfort they bring, but also to the conditions they may aggravate over the long term. It is critical to seek medical attention when it is warranted, but those who suffer from sleep disorders should not forget that small changes still make a big difference in sleep quality and thus overall health.