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Wake Up to the Healing Properties of Sleep

By Nancy Wongvipat, M.P.H.

December 1999/January 2000

Sleep is essential to our physical and mental health.

Adequate sleep may play a role in helping our bodies recover from illness or injury. Studies have shown that sleep deprivation results in a loss of strength, an impaired immune system and an increase in blood pressure.

In general, most healthy adults need an average of seven to nine hours of sleep a night, although individual sleep requirements vary. The need for sleep does not decline with age, although the ability to maintain it may be reduced. To get an idea of whether you are getting enough sleep, take the sleep quotient quiz below.

Causes of Sleep Deprivation

Sleep is also important for emotional and mental functions. Sleep loss can affect concentration and impair the ability to perform tasks involving memory, learning, logical reasoning and mathematical calculations. A recent study reported in The New York Times suggests that chronic lack of sleep may even make the aging process more difficult.

For people living with HIV, sleep disturbances may result in potential decline in quality of life. For example, sleep disturbances may cause daytime fatigue and affect functional status and quality of life. Many HIV-positive individuals with daytime fatigue also have medical sleep disorders. Thus, proper diagnosis and medical treatment of the sleep disorder may produce significant improvement in quality of life. Complaints of sleep disturbance have also been associated with depression and pain, both of which may also make it harder to fall asleep or lead to nighttime or early morning awakenings. Insomnia, which is difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, is also widespread and underdiagnosed in HIV-positive individuals.

Although most of the FDA-approved HIV antiretrovirals can cause fatigue, it is interesting to note that most of them have been shown to cause some type of sleep disturbance as well. In clinical studies, many of the available drugs caused insomnia less than 1 percent of the time.

One major exception, however, is Sustiva (efavirenz), which lists some type of sleep disturbance as a more common side effect, especially during the initiation period for the drug. Regardless of which drug may be causing a sleep disorder, a change in dose scheduling, nutrition or exercise may alleviate this side effect. Check with a healthcare professional, treatment advocate or nutrition advocate before making changes to your medication regimen.

According to a report in the November issue of Pediatrics, HIV-infected children appear to have a higher than normal rate of sleep disturbance than children who are not HIV-infected. HIV-infected children participating in the study woke up more frequently, stayed awake longer, and reported a greater level of tiredness.

Prompt diagnosis and interventions to promote sleep may improve the quality of life and prevent additional compromise of immune function in people living with HIV.

Healthcare providers who treat HIV-positive individuals need to be aware of medical sleep disorders as treatable causes of daytime fatigue and insomnia. Often, they pay attention only to measurable physical symptoms such as fever or weight loss, granting more attention as measurable symptoms change and the individual becomes sicker.

Types of Sleep Disorders

What are some common sleep problems?

Psychological factors, particularly stress, are considered by most sleep experts to be the leading cause of short-term sleeping difficulties. Usually the sleep problem disappears when the stressful situation passes. However, if short-term sleep problems are not managed properly from the beginning, they can persist long after the original stress has passed.

Insomnia can be brought on when depression is suspected. Many depressed people complain of insomnia without recognizing that they are depressed. If you have lost interest in activities you used to enjoy or if you have feelings of hopelessness or suicide, your sleep problems may be a result of depression. Talk to your healthcare provider about any sleeping problem that recurs or persists for longer than one week. When the depression is treated, the accompanying sleep problems usually disappear.

Give Yourself Time

Changing your sleep patterns cannot be done overnight, but changes can be made in a relatively short period of time. If you're plagued by serious fatigue or more than transient insomnia, don't delay in seeing your doctor.

Most of us, however, simply need to be a little more aware of the fact that a good night's sleep is just as important to our health as exercise and good nutrition. Make a few small changes and you'll soon find yourself feeling better.

Many sleep problems can be improved by changing your sleep habits, reducing stress, improving your diet or exercising. If problems persist, it may be time to seek professional help.

Are You Getting Enough Sleep?

Read the statements below and choose each one that has applied to you in the past year. If you choose one or more statements, discuss your sleep with your health care provider.

Sleep and the Traveler

Every day, millions of travelers struggle against one of the most common sleep disorders: jet lag.

Jet lag results from an imbalance in our body's natural "biological clock" caused by traveling to different time zones. When traveling to a new time zone, our circadian rhythms (24-hour cycle) are slow to adjust and remain on their original biological schedule for several days.

Some of you will be traveling for the holidays and may find the following tips useful in minimizing some of the side effects of jet lag.

Nancy Wongvipat, M.P.H., is a health education specialist in AIDS Project Los Angeles' Education Division. She can be reached by calling (323) 993-1511 or by e-mail at

This article has been reprinted at The Body with the permission of AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA).

This article was provided by AIDS Project Los Angeles. It is a part of the publication Positive Living. You can find this article online by typing this address into your Web browser:

General Disclaimer: is designed for educational purposes only and is not engaged in rendering medical advice or professional services. The information provided through should not be used for diagnosing or treating a health problem or a disease. It is not a substitute for professional care. If you have or suspect you may have a health problem, consult your health care provider.