One had an opportunity recently looking at medical statistics showing the most common and prevalent ailments in Nigeria currently. Insomnia ranks high in the list, although it can be a side-effect or symptom of other ailments or conditions. Whatever the case, it is a true fact that a large number of Nigerian adults are unable to have regular, sound sleep, during the night.
Insomnia refers to chronic sleeplessness, whereby an individual finds it difficult to sleep during the night, or cannot remain asleep for longer than 60 minutes without waking up. Chronic sleeplessness is usually associated with stress or worries, whereby an individual remains tensed up and agonizing or brooding over one problem or another. For some people the situation passes away quite soon, while for others it remains a regular experience, all night for quite a long time. It is obvious that night is meant for sleeping and thus regeneration of the body, after energy-sapping activities during the day.
Medical authorities would tell us that insomnia can arise from several factors-physical, psychological, etc. Current economic factors cannot be ruled out as contributing to rising cases of insomnia among Nigerians, because, there is no way that a man can go to bed and have a sound sleep, with his family hungry. While some people may have more economic pains than others, it can hardly be said that insomnia is an exclusive ailment of the poor, because, even the rich also experience sleeplessness.
The sharp rise in cases of insomnia in the past few years in Nigeria can be associated with current conditions in the society – unemployment, job losses, insecurity, etc. It is a true fact that only one part of the human brain goes to or needs sleep, namely, the frontal part of the brain also known as the cerebrum, which is involved in the thinking process. Therefore, it follows that thinking ceases when the frontal part of the brain is taking a rest which we call sleep. The body also gets some rest and regeneration when the cerebrum is taking its own rest through sleep.
Habitual sleeplessness has some wide-ranging implications with regards to mental and physical health of individuals. The restlessness associated with sleeplessness can make some people to look for remedy through the consumption of chemical substances such as drugs or alcoholic drinks. Such remedies have been known to aggravate rather than solve the problem of insomnia. Some people also resort to various other remedies which include an attitude of not worrying about sleeplessness, but rest the body quietly without stress. There are those who confess that through this method they have lived for several years without any adverse effects from insomnia. Some have been known to claim that they are non-sleepers, by nature.
But, is it possible or safe that the part of the brain which is responsible for thinking can stay indefinitely without taking some rest through sleep? An answer to this question depends on the nature, quality and value of thinking which dominates the brain by day or night. Definitely the process of thinking is a weapon for good or ill, for out of it, arises all the issues of life. Serious studies in the mechanism of the mind and the brain point to the fact that human health, including insomnia and other issues of life have much to do with what an individual generates through the process of thinking.
Would it not be rational and logical to say that rising cases of insomnia has something to do with the nature, quality and value of the thinking which the brain generates? There is a world of difference between what happens to an individual or a nation, and the reactions and attitude of the individual or nation to the experiences encountered. A successful and wise person is not the one who had a smooth and stress-free ride in life, but the one who is able to develop the capacity to turn things around for the better.
Vital instruments necessary to turn things around for the better include thinking and attitude. Let the reader not frown at the suggestion that insomnia, like all other problems that we have had as individuals and as a nation, are created or aggravated by our thinking and attitude. Is it logical, for instance, to think that you can hurt or cheat and then get away without being hurt or cheated? Is it not logical that with an attitude of penitence an injury can be turned around into justice and peace?
Insomnia, in the language of symbolism, is an idiom which reminds us, like in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, that those who “murder sleep” would rarely have a sound sleep, no matter the quantity of sleeping drugs they consume. The human conscience is an open wound which truth and justice would heal. Christian science doctrines would tell us that the mind is capable of making a hell out of heaven, or a heaven out of hell. There is so much meanness or pettiness in the Nigerian environment which we should all strive to change for the better. One Viktor Frankl, while in Hitler’s concentration camp, developed the philosophy of “Logotherapy” which is designed to eliminate a feeling of emptiness and help individuals to find their unique missions, values and meaning in life. Logotherapy would be quite helpful for people who have insomnia. Rather than alcohol, watermelon can also be helpful.
Dr Amirize is a retired lecturer, Rivers State University.