Monthly Archives: September 2020

Embracing the true meaning of aloneness

by Teresa Steyn 

Here I am at my laptop at 4:45 a.m. on a Thursday morning with a sudden desire to reflect. I woke up a bit earlier and found myself tossing and turning back and forth, seeming unable to fall back to sleep. Somehow, when the idea popped into my head to write, I found peace. I have always enjoyed this time of morning darkness when all human activity is completely silent for a while. Besides the wind whispering to herself, and the occasional bird awakening, I could swear that I am alone in the world. Strangely, the feeling is not lonely.

I think we have all had to confront the experience of loneliness at some point in life, and perhaps more so this year during the COVID-19 lockdown, when social activity has been thus minimised. The term “loneliness” is often associated with being intrinsically sad or unpleasant, but I feel that the experience of aloneness does not have to be a bad thing.  This year has offered me a chance to see that aloneness can be a gift.

I would say that there is an art to being alone. And like any skill that one can master, there are probably some simple techniques we can use to create something profound and joyous from the practice of being alone. I certainly cannot say I have learnt them all – a journey to undertake perhaps? But for now, something that could be interesting to try is this: When you are alone, really be alone.

What do I mean by this? Well, test this little experiment out: the next time you find yourself alone in your room, a garden, or basically anywhere, for a few minutes put away your phone, your laptop and any other devices that give you access to other people. Ask yourself this, “Who am I with right now?”
The answer may seem obvious.
Just wait and observe.
If you hear a kind of voice in your head giving you an answer to this question, then it seems you are with a voice in your head… who is that voice?

This exercise is unusual I guess but I have found that it brings me to a place of fully being alone when I am alone. This is important to establish because if – in your mind – your friends, foes, and family, your social media following, or the stress of work is keeping you company, then when you start to ask yourself questions about who you are, you may get confused and find that you answer the questions according to who you believe yourself to be in their company rather than who you truly are by yourself. So, whatever it takes, and wherever it takes you, I think it is a worthy endeavour to find what it really means to be alone, even if this is just for a few moments.

The second part of the experiment is to read this quote by Jean-Paul Sartre: “If you are lonely when you’re alone, you are in bad company.” I am sure you have also heard it said that sometimes we feel lonelier when we are in a crowd full of people than when we are by ourselves. These words serve as a reminder that loneliness is more a state of mind than an absolute reality about the number of people we are with. If you find there is discontent in the company you keep when you are alone, it is worth considering what the source of this discontent is. Life inevitably comes with its challenges and we might find that our discontent arises from events that have happened in our life, frustrations about our current situation, or anxiety, fear, and depression about what lies ahead. But these thoughts and emotions are not who you are. Of course, realising this does not mean that our problems are not real or that they suddenly disappear, but rather there arises an opportunity to not be defined in terms of them. Finding out who you are beyond your cognitions and emotions may be the greatest mystery you will ever undertake to unravel.

When I put aside all the things that usually consume my mind, I see that I am not the source of discontent. What a relief! If I am not the source of discontent, then it means that the most fundamental thing I have access to…myself…conscious existence is intrinsically alright as is. A benign neutrality that has neither an agenda for pleasure nor pain.

With this realisation, we learn to enjoy the company we keep wherever we go. No other human being becomes responsible for our contentment. Is this not freedom? To want for nothing. It means then that no unnecessary conditions are being placed on your joy. Instead, you can find enjoyment independent of whether you are alone or with others.

This year has been so different to any year before. Of course, I have been through phases when I have missed human contact, struggled with decisions about the future, lacked motivation to keep working, and had my share of interpersonal (or maybe just personal 😉) melodramas. Nonetheless, I have also had time to embrace the true meaning of aloneness. And for that, I am grateful.  Aloneness does not mean avoiding other people, it just means not avoiding yourself. So, the next time you find yourself alone, why not just relax into it? Make yourself a cup of tea or coffee, maybe pick up a good book, and fully appreciate your own radiant company.

The impact of insomnia on physical and mental health

by Yuseung Nam

“The night is the hardest time to be alive and 4am knows all my secrets” – Poppy Z.Brite, author of Lost Souls

This quote highlights the time of night when the activity of body is at its lowest, melatonin levels being at the highest, body temperature and blood pressure being at their lowest levels while the body’s metabolism goes down. This quote also emphasizes how waking up around this specific time would cause harm allowing your body to be vulnerable and body’s health status becoming irregular, as well as your psychological status.

Insomnia is one of sleep disorders that causes inadequate sleep maintenance, falling asleep and constant non-refreshing sleeps resulting in poor sleep quality. Insomnia has many consequences such as tiredness, poor energy expenditure and unstable concentration during daytime (SASSM, 2016). Pengpid and Peltzer (2018) demonstrated that in rural areas of South Africa, 8% of all adult participants had insomnia symptoms, 8,9% of participants had trouble sleeping, 13,6% had trouble maintaining sleep and 6,5% had poor quality of sleep. They also emphasized that lower education quality, constant crime occurrences, poor health-statuses and depressive symptoms due to rural lifestyle conditions led to further increase insomniac symptoms. They also highlighted that this condition is prominent in middle and older age individuals within those rural areas.

Acute insomnia is short-term due to stress or emotional discomfort or any traumatic event. This lasts from days to weeks due to jet lag, inconsistent sleeping with regards to biological rhythm (SASSM, 2016). Chronic insomnia is long-term due to combination of different medical conditions or issues whilst taking medications that results in sleep disturbances (SASSM, 2016). Chronic insomnia can last up to many months. So how does insomnia negatively impact our daily physical and mental health?

A study by Fernandez-Mendoza and Vgontzas (2013) demonstrated that insomnia with “objective short sleep duration can lead to risk of cardiometabolic and neurocognitive morbidity and mortality”. While, insomnias with normal sleep duration is only because of misguidance of sleep and emotional arousal. However, both insomnia conditions are known to cause harm on mental health.

How insomnia has impact on stress system

They suggested that individuals with cognitive emotional hyperarousal (i.e. obsession and anxiety) can act upon insomnia and the insomnia can be triggered from activation of stress systems. Stress triggers the Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) and the Sympatho-Adrenal-Medullary axes. Sleepiness and its arousal within the animals and humans are known to be caused by Corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) and cortisol (these are produced by hypothalamus and adrenals, respectively), and catecholamines (produced by sympathetic systems). However, they proposed that deep sleep especially is known to have an “anti-stress” effect inhibits stress systems by decreasing/stopping the HPA axis and sympathetic systems. Vgontzas et al. (2001) suggested that middle-aged individuals were more vulnerable to sleep disturbances which gave susceptibility to insomnia.

Insomnia and its impact on cardiometabolic activity

Having trouble falling asleep or maintaining poor sleeping habit are associated with cardiometabolic consequences such as diabetes and hypertension (Suka, Yoshida and Sugimori, 2003; Esposito, Marfella and Giugliano, 2004). And difficulty falling asleep or maintaining sleep increases chance of hypertension, myocardial infarction and type 2 diabetes (Suka, Yoshida and Sugimori, 2003; Esposito, Marfella and Giugliano, 2004; Laugsand et al., 2011). Fernandez-Mendoza and Vgontzas (2013) further demonstrated that the chance of diabetes and hypertension were more prevalent in patients with insomnia who slept for less than five hours, while normal sleepers who slept for more than six hours per night had reduced risk of hypertension or diabetes. Vgontzas et al. (2014) also demonstrated that chronic (long-term) non-obese insomniacs who slept for shorter time periods than poor sleepers, did not show an increased risk of obesity. This means that insomnia with objective short sleep duration associated to medical causes like diabetes and hypertension were due to processes other than being obese and weight gain. They also mentioned that insomnia with short sleep duration was more prevalent in individuals with diabetes and hypertensions as well.

Impact of insomnia on neurocognition

Fernandez-Mendoza and Vgontzas (2013) suggested that individuals with insomnia had trouble with maintaining concentration and recalling memories. They proposed that patients with insomnia who had objective short sleep duration maintained significant decrease in their neuropsychological performance tests on memory and cognitive process speed, attention switching and numerous errors with short-term visual memories compared to those with normal sleep durations. Fortier-Brochu et al. (2012) suggested that patients with insomnia normally have impaired performance in cognitive functions such as memory, episodic memory and executive functioning as well.

Difference between chronic insomnia and poor sleep

Ohayon (2002) suggests that 20% of the general population has poor sleep (i.e. symptoms regarding to initiating and maintaining sleep) and about 10% suffers from chronic insomnia. Fernandez-Mendoza and Vgontzas (2013) further deduced that chronic insomnia is a condition that maintains for long period of time, whereas irregular sleep without following biological rhythm resulting in poor sleep is varies for individuals which suggests that insomnia is a disorder while “poor sleep is a symptom of underlying physical and mental health problems”. They further proposed that objective short sleep duration is known to be a risk factor for poor sleep that can contribute towards detrimental form of chronic insomnia.

According to Anita Schlarb, Friedrich and Claßen (2017), 60% of university students have trouble with poor sleeping quality and 7.7% has all criteria regarding an insomnia disorder. Sleep problem indeed have huge impact on students’ life such as their final mark percentages. Owing to doing side jobs whilst studying and stressful exam period that may contribute to irregular daily routine, students need special treatments to improve their sleep quality.

In conclusion, treatment of insomnia should be given a priority to mitigate these negative impacts in insomniacs due to its severity. I believe that treatments should be focused mainly on individuals with objective short sleep duration, individuals with poor sleep associated with stress and possibly genetic history of problems with sleep since we can find the cause and try to reduce certain aspects.


Anita Schlarb, A., Friedrich, A. and Claßen, M. (2017) ‘Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment Dovepress sleep problems in university students-an intervention’, Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment, pp. 1989–2001. doi: 10.2147/NDT.S142067.

Esposito, K., Marfella, R. and Giugliano, D. (2004) ‘Plasma Interleukin-18 Concentrations Are Elevated in Type 2 Diabetes [1]’, Diabetes Care, 27(1), p. 272. doi: 10.2337/diacare.27.1.272.

Fernandez-Mendoza, J. and Vgontzas, A. N. (2013) ‘Insomnia and its impact on physical and mental health’, Current Psychiatry Reports, 15(12), pp. 1–14. doi: 10.1007/s11920-013-0418-8.

Fortier-Brochu, É. et al. (2012) ‘Insomnia and daytime cognitive performance: A meta-analysis’, Sleep Medicine Reviews. Elsevier Ltd, 16(1), pp. 83–94. doi: 10.1016/j.smrv.2011.03.008.

Laugsand, L. E. et al. (2011) ‘Insomnia and the risk of acute myocardial infarction: A population study’, Circulation, 124(19), pp. 2073–2081. doi: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.111.025858.

Ohayon, M. M. (2002) ‘Epidemiology of insomnia: What we know and what we still need to learn’, Sleep Medicine Reviews, 6(2), pp. 97–111. doi: 10.1053/smrv.2002.0186.

Pengpid, S. and Peltzer, K. (2018) ‘Prevalence and social and health correlates of insomnia symptoms among middle-and older-age persons in rural South Africa’, Journal of Psychology in Africa, 28(6), pp. 472–478. doi: 10.1080/14330237.2018.1539897.

Suka, M., Yoshida, K. and Sugimori, H. (2003) ‘Persistent Insomnia is a Predictor of Hypertension in Japanese Male Workers’, Journal of Occupational Health, 45(6), pp. 344–350. doi: 10.1539/joh.45.344.

Vgontzas, A. N. et al. (2001) ‘Middle-aged men show higher sensitivity of sleep to the arousing effects of corticotropin-releasing hormone than young men: Clinical implications’, Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, 86(4), pp. 1489–1495. doi: 10.1210/jcem.86.4.7370.

Vgontzas, A. N. et al. (2014) ‘Unveiling the longitudinal association between short sleep duration and the incidence of obesity: The Penn State Cohort’, International Journal of Obesity. Nature Publishing Group, 38(6), pp. 825–832. doi: 10.1038/ijo.2013.172.

SASSM. (2016). Insomnia – Sleep Disorders. [online] Available at: <; [Accessed 20 July 2020].