Get your beauty sleep or face some ugly truths

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Phuong Nguyen, 36, chief accountant with an export company in Ho Chi Minh City, was rushed to hospital by her colleagues recently after she smashed things on her desk including the PC.

Doctors say the incident was a climax of Nguyen not being able to sleep, and it had also caused errors in work that cost the company to lose about US$10,000.

Nguyen said she has been constantly angry and stressed, suffered memory loss and had her skin crack around her eyes and mouth. She'd had difficulty falling asleep for three years.

She is currently being treated at the city Mental Hospital, where many other victims of sleep disorders, mostly women between 35 and 50 years of age, are being treated.

All the patients look fatigued, some because of insomnia as they cannot get to sleep, while others suffer from hypersomnia that causes the patients to sleep excessively.

Hai Duong, a high school teacher in the city, had to take leave from work and get treatment for hypersomnia. She kept yawning in front of the students and dropped the chalk many times as she was writing on the blackboard as a result of falling asleep.

Duong said she has been at the hospital for three weeks but seen no significant improvement yet.

Treatments for sleep disorders include behavioral and psychotherapeutic treatment, as well as special medication.

Doctor Lam Hieu Minh at the hospital said the medical disorder of sleep patterns is seen more often in women than men, and most usually in people whose jobs require a high degree of mental attention such as businesspeople, office workers and those with a computer.

Minh said those suffering from such disorders for a long time are likely to lose memory and the ability to focus. They are also likely to become less efficient at work. 

He said in more serious cases, it can lead to or worsen other physical conditions like digestion disorders, diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiological decline and myocardial ischemia which is the lack of oxygen supply to the heart muscle, and even cause fatal strokes.

"Sleep is crucial for the body to develop and adapt to the environment," Minh said.

The doctor said newborns require 20 hours of sleep a day, which gives time for the body to produce hormones that facilitate energy storage or metabolism, and for the brain to rearrange all the information and consolidate the memory.

He said a good sleep would last seven or eight hours at night without nightmares and leave an adult to feel refreshed when waking up.

But he also said such sleep is hard to achieve, and that sleep patterns can be easily upset by psychological trauma caused by major changes in life such as the loss or change of jobs, loss of a loved one, divorce, or even moving houses.

Uncomfortable environment with too much noise or light or extreme temperatures can also cause acute sleep disorders.

Minh said some people, when first having sleeping trouble, seek sedatives, only to become dependent on them.  Studies have shown that sedative users are three times more likely to suffer a stroke than others, he added.

He said people can cure their condition by themselves at early stages, with some effort. They should work to remove possible causes including stress, poor nutrition, environment pollution, alcohol consumption, smoking, infection or injuries.

Good sleep comes with good habits, including going to bed and getting up at regular times, the doctor said, advising that people should get up as soon as they wake up and go to sleep as soon as they start yawning or their eyes feel tired.

He said people should not force their bodies to stay up by reading interesting books at night or watch TV in bed.

Late or big dinners, drinks with caffeine or heavy activities at night are not recommended.

Minh said a glass of milk, a warm water bath and some massage can provide a good night's sleep, as well as a fresh and quiet bedroom with dim light.

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