I am envious of those people who can sleep. Those people who fall asleep at the drop of the hat, who easily nap during the day, sleep through the night and sleep till late. My body just can’t do it. no matter how exhausted I am, no matter how late I went to bed, I will be up at the crack of dawn but my troubles are absolutely nothing compared to the insomnia that some people living with HIV and Aids endure.
Many people with HIV have problems sleeping. This can be due to being uncomfortable, illness, worry, anxiety, depression, treatment side-effects, and drug or alcohol use. Not getting enough sleep can cause health problems, but there are a number of practical things that can be done to sleep better and in some cases medicines may help.
Sleep is essential to both physical and mental health. Sleep allows the body and mind to rest and recover. Long-term sleep deprivation can cause emotional problems such as depression. It is thought that long-term sleep problems can mean that the immune system doesn’t work properly, meaning that a person may be more likely to get ill.
Sleep follows a pattern, alternating between REM (rapid-eye-movement) sleep and non-REM sleep. In the course of a night, the body goes through cycles of REM and non-REM sleep, and a balance between these patterns is important to get a restful night’s sleep.
People’s sleep needs vary, but eight hours is the average sleep requirement for an adult. However, some people feel refreshed on an average of six hours, and other people need an average of nine or 10 hours. If you have been working or exercising very hard, are ill, or recovering from an illness or infection, you may find that the amount of sleep you need increases substantially.
Not being able to sleep is called insomnia. It can take many forms. Some people find it difficult to fall asleep; others wake up after just a few hours of sleep and then can’t get back to sleep; some people wake up very early in the morning; and others find that their sleep does not leave them feeling refreshed.
Problems like anxiety and depression can cause sleep problems which last for very long periods. Symptoms of illnesses such as night sweats and pain can also interfere with sleep. Some drugs used to treat HIV and illnesses associated with it cause insomnia or other sleep problems. In particular, vivid dreams and insomnia are among the most common side-effects of efavirenz (Sustiva, also in the combination pill Atripla).
In many cases a few lifestyle changes are enough to bring back good sleep. These might include avoiding tea and coffee and other stimulants for several hours before going to bed, or not napping during the day; going to bed and waking up at regular times; not lying in bed awake and anxious but rather going somewhere else in the house till tired enough to try sleeping in bed again; reading and not watching television, playing with a phone or a computer (the light these devices emit is likely to keep you awake; a dark and cool room, if possible, to create a sleep-friendly environment. If these don’t work, then a doctor may recommend sleeping pills. n