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Monday, May 24, 2004
This winter McMurdo Medical has been answering community health questions in the form of a "Dr. Penguin" column that is periodically dispersed in stationwide emails. The most recent question was this:
Dear Dr. Penguin,
Help! Iím having an awful time trying to get to sleep! I go to bed at night and have a hard time falling asleep. Then, when I do, I canít stay asleep. I wake up repeatedly during the night. This never happened to me back home. Iím now tired and grumpy all day long. Iím getting to the end of my rope. What can I do?
--Sleepless in McMurdo
The response from "Dr. Penguin" is a four page analysis of REM sleep, circadian rhythms, sleep hygiene, stress cycles, and sleep apnea, and will not be reprinted here. However, considering the April 10 medevac and the May 7 post (below), I thought these excerpts notable:
Iím glad you asked. Youíre not alone. Insomnia and sleep disorders are two of the most common medical concerns that have plagued Antarctic explores since humans set foot on the ice. And not just because of the harsh irritating fur of the reindeer sleeping bags! Never fear. We have solutions to your sleeplessness. . . .
Sleep deprivation can lead to fatigue and sluggishness during the day. Severe and ongoing sleep deprivation can lead to more profound symptoms, including poor judgment, decreased motor skills, and disorders of thought, including hallucinations and delusions.
Dear Dr. Penguin,
If insomnia has "plagued Antarctic explores[sic]" since the early days, and if sleep deprivation is scientifically recognized as leading to symptoms such as "disorders of thought, including hallucinations and delusions", then how do you know the difference between someone who's sleep deprived and someone who's schizophrenic? Is there a medical reference book that tells you if certain hallucinations and delusions (say, breathing walls and having the cosmos sprout from your wastebasket) indicate sleep deprivation while other hallucinations and delusions (say, the old camera-in-the-smoke-detector or God-is-watching-me-from-heaven classics) indicate schizophrenia?
On Roald Amundsen's first Antarctic expedition he swore that he heard a series of loud screams that no one else heard. On Shackleton's Endurance expedition, as he climbed mountains and slid down glaciers with his two companions, Shackleton wrote that he felt as if there was a fourth member of the party, a presence he couldn't explain. Presently at McMurdo and Pole, several winter subjects are involved in a study called "Prevention of environment-induced decrements in mood and cognitive performance" [NSF/OPP Project 00-90343] in which environment-induced insomnia is recognized, as well as being a source of funds for some NSF grantees. At what hypothetical point should the lessons of history and science be tossed aside so that business can get down to business? Is the present study on decreased winter cognitive performance entirely without scientific basis? If so, then why am I as a subject taking daily capsules of Levoxyl? If NSF is funding projects that scientifically recognize Antarctic toastiness, yet RPSC doctors don't recognize such, how many future lawsuits do you think it will be before that gap is closed? In your professional opinion, should Amundsen and Shackleton have been prescribed haloperidol?
Thanks, Dr. Penguin!
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