Let’s say you live to 80-years of age. You will spend approximately 26 years of your life asleep. It is no wonder that sleep forms an important part of our lives.
In today’s episode we have Dr Guy Leschziner. He is a British sleep physician and neurology consultant. Dr Leschizner is the clinical lead for one of Europe’s largest sleep units—the Sleep Disorders Centre in the UK. His latest book is The Nocturnal Brain. It follows the stories of individuals with various sleep disorders and their journey to getting a diagnosis and treatment.
There are hundreds of sleep apps and wearable devices which can monitor your sleep patterns and quality of your rest. However, Dr Leschziner has seen a lot of patients in his London hospital who have developed insomnia and anxiety around sleep after using these trackers.
Orthosomnia is a disorder where the sufferer becomes hyper-focused on sleep, generally as a result of using sleep trackers.
This is just one of the sleep disorders Dr Leschziner examines in his book The Nocturnal Brain.
One of the stories from his book discusses sleep-eating which, in an extreme case, caused one of his patients to eat a bowl of birdseeds. In another case a man with sexsomnia was convicted of rape after assaulting his partner while asleep. Then there’s the case of Kenneth Parks in Ontario in 1987 who was acquitted for murdering his in-laws in his sleep.
Without a doubt these are extreme cases. They serve to highlight just how complex the human brain is.
We have had it drummed into us that eight hours is the optimal amount of sleep. However, the truth is we all function in different ways, with different sleep needs.
“I think many sleep disorders increase in frequency as we get older,” says Dr Leschziner. “So conditions like restless leg syndrome, obstructive sleep apnoea and insomnia.”
A 2019 study led by former NASA sleep scientist Stephanie Romiszewski, found that in UK medical schools the average amount of time students learnt about sleep was 3.2 hours.
“For most medical students, they will have us have one or two hours exposure to education about sleep disorders, uh, throughout the, uh, clinical, uh, training,” says Dr Leschizner. “The vast majority of doctor’s expertise of sleep disorders is fairly minimal. That’s changing a little bit now as people are becoming a bit more aware of these conditions.”
If Dr Leschziner could give his 18-year old self advice, it would be this:
“Medicine is an inquiry, incredibly rewarding and fascinating. It’s a vocation and you’ve got to be dedicated to it and enjoy it but you need to be absolutely sure that you’re doing the right thing because it doesn’t come without its challenges.”
There is no singular reason why some people experience the extremes of sleep disorders and others simply wake to feel refreshed. Dr Leschziner’s book The Nocturnal Brain uncovers why that is.
The Nocturnal Brain is available for purchase from Amazon and where books are sold.
Was there a time when you’ve had to push the medical profession to look harder for a diagnosis when you’ve felt something wasn’t quite right with your health, body or mind?
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