How insomnia helps a painter

IT’S a simple fact that we all need adequate sleep to function optimally, but this is sometimes overlooked by many people who opt to neglect sleep to get more work done. Then there are those who don’t have a choice as insomnia — a sleeping disorder — makes it difficult for them to fall asleep or stay asleep.

Though 34-year-old painter Xayvier Haughton is one of those who do not have a choice in the matter, he believes his inability to get proper sleep has helped his career.

Haughton has not been officially diagnosed with insomnia, but he told the Jamaica Observer that he knows he has the condition because he only gets about two to three hours of sleep several nights per week.

According to the United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), insomnia is a common disorder that hinders sleep, making it different to fall asleep or stay asleep. Chronic insomnia, CDC outlined, is a long-term pattern of difficulty sleeping. Insomnia is considered chronic if a person has trouble falling asleep or staying asleep at least three nights per week for three months or longer, it said.

“The issue is not a matter of how tired or fatigued I get, the issue is it’s hard to fall asleep and I would sleep for about two to three hours per night. However, because of my work, it works in my favour,” the father of two told Your Health Your Wealth

Haughton said he is not quite sure what caused his insomnia, but shared that it could be stress-related because he had a relatively difficult childhood.

“My life growing up was very hard. My parents aren’t rich and as the eldest son, I was given a lot of responsibility. Then when I started going to Edna Manley College, I started having serious problems falling asleep and it hasn’t improved since,” he recounted, noting that it’s almost 10 years since he first noticed the issue.

However, since Haughton is able to get more work done at nights when his children are asleep, he doesn’t mind his apparent sleeping disorder because he is yet to see any adverse effects.

“I am a full-time artist and the work I am engaged in as an artist is mostly monumental in scale. So, in order to find the correct frame of mind, I work at nights when it’s quieter. It does not affect my work or my daily life, because I am used to it by now,” he explained.

Clinical Psychologist Dr Pearnel Bell told Your Health Your Wealth, however, that a healthy sleep cycle is important because its absence may have negative effects on the body and the brain.

“Some people suffer for longer periods during insomnia, some could be short term. Some people have gone days at time without proper sleep. If you are not sleeping well, it’s going to affect you mentally and physically. It’s going to affect your ability to perform physically, and your mental sharpness is going to be down and be affected. If we are not getting enough sleep, if we are physically challenged as a result of sleep deprivation, it will begin to affect other areas of our lives and our body,” Dr Bell said, adding that some people end up having a mental breakdown as a result of inadequate sleep patterns.

She explained, too, that insomnia may be caused by the depletion of the hormone melatonin — a chemical that is released in the brain to induce sleep.

“The chemical cause is that there may be a depletion of melatonin. Melatonin is a chemical that actually gives the signal when it becomes darker in the evening that it’s time for sleep. This is why it is usually advised that we sleep in a darker room. So when melatonin is depleted in the brain, we find that it inhibits sleep,” Dr Bell said.

She also said that people with various challenges and stressors in their lives may develop insomnia.

“When our nervous system is activated, it begins to produce more adrenaline, which places us in a flight or fight mode. When we are in that flight or fight mode, it means that we are alert, so this could result in the inhibition of the melatonin that is supposed to induce sleep; so we end up [not being able to] sleep because we have too many things on our mind,” the clinical psychologist said.

Though many sleep aid drugs contain melatonin to induce sleep, Dr Bell noted that these drugs can be addictive and they are not highly recommended. Instead of drugs, she advised people to practise what she describes as “good sleep hygiene”.

She stated: “Like how you take care of your body in terms of hygiene, sleep hygiene also means that you are now going to practise things that are now going to help you to sleep properly. One of the things that is recommended is that every single one of us should develop a sleep routine.”

In addition to developing a sleep routine, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), good sleep hygiene includes making your bedroom as dark and relaxing as possible, removing electronic devices from the bedroom, avoiding large meals, caffeine and alcohol before bedtime, and getting adequate exercise during the day.

WHO said, too, that specific workers who are engaged in high responsibility jobs often show high anxiety levels because they have to perform difficult tasks. This, WHO said, means that they are more prone to periods of insomnia.

WHO also reported that between 10 per cent and 30 per cent of adults worldwide struggle with chronic insomnia, and women have a lifetime risk of insomnia, which is at least 40 per cent higher than that of men.

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