Mon, Jun 24, 2013 - Page 11 News List

Taiwan’s 2 million insomniacs

A doctor at Wei Gong Memorial Hospital’s Center for Sleep Medicine attends to a patient in Miaoli County on Feb. 25, 2011.

Photo: Peng Chien-li, Liberty Times

Approximately 90 percent of the more than 2 million people suffering from insomnia in Taiwan have never sought medical attention. However, for every thousand people 9.1 sleeping pills are consumed every day, three times the consumption rate among Americans, and most people are buying these drugs without prescriptions, raising the liklihood that they are harming their health by taking fake medicine or the wrong medicine. Yang Chih-chieh, an attending physician in the Psychiatric Department at Taipei Veterans General Hospital, says that as many as 4,000 to 5,000 patients visit the hospital’s clinic for insomnia every month, with around 200 of them coming in for the first time. Approximately a third of the patients suffer from insomnia due to physiological issues, which cannot be effectively treated by simply increasing one’s dose of sleeping drugs.

Yang says that insomnia can be defined as feeling like you have simply not gotten enough sleep when you wake up in the morning, which can be further divided into having difficulties falling asleep, waking up several times throughout the night, or having trouble falling asleep again after waking up. Dealing with insomnia within a month after it begins will show the best results, but many people wait until it becomes chronic and do not treat the fundamental causes, Yang says.

One 78-year-old man who had started having difficulties keeping his balance and falling often when walking was hospitalized before finding out that he was suffering from severe sleep apnea, which was affecting his sleep. Even after taking sleeping pills for a long period of time, his sleep had still not improved and he was waking up every day feeling dizzy and weak because he had increased the dosage, which was affecting his balance and ability to walk. After the Division of Chest Medicine arranged a breathing machine treatment for him and the Psychiatric Department adjusted his dosage, the elderly man finally got his energy back and was able to walk normally again.

According to Yang’s own analysis, elderly people typically experience insomnia because of physical problems, with half caused by sleep apnea and 20 percent by clonus or involuntary movements. Insomnia can also be brought on by side effects from medications or muscle and bone pains.

Young and middle-aged people often suffer from insomnia because of stress, anxiety or because they are not accustomed to retired life. Around a third of these young insomniacs do not need to rely upon sleeping drugs for an extended period of time. All they need to do is understand how to relax and change their bad habits in order to sleep until the sun comes up, he says. Bad habits include staying up late, smoking cigarettes, playing with your cellphone before sleeping, eating late-night snacks and drinking caffeinated beverages.

In order to better understand the fundamental problems associated with sleep disorders, the hospital opened its new Sleep Medicine Center on Monday last week, which provides comprehensive examinations that are paid for by the national medical insurance system. Starting next month the center will be collaborating with other doctors and psychologists at the hospital to better take care of patients and reduce people’s reliance on drugs.

(Liberty Times, Translated by Kyle Jeffcoat)

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