Cold extremities and difficulties initiating sleep: evidence of co-morbidity from a random sample of a Swiss urban population

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Difficulties initiating sleep (DIS) can frequently occur in psychiatric disorders but also in the general population. The primary vasospastic syndrome is a functional disorder of vascular regulation in otherwise healthy subjects complaining of thermal discomfort from cold extremities (TDCE). Laboratory studies have shown a close relationship between long sleep onset latency and increased distal vasoconstriction in healthy young subjects. Considering these findings, the aims of the Basel Survey were to assess the prevalence rates for DIS and TDCE and to determine whether both symptoms can be associated in the general population. In a random population sample of Basel-Stadt, 2800 subjects (age: 20–40 years) were requested to complete a questionnaire on sleep behavior and TDCE (response rate: 72.3% in women, n = 1001; 60.0% in men, n = 809). Values of DIS and TDCE were based on questionnaire-derived scores. In addition, TDCE was externally validated in a separate group of subjects (n = 256) by finger skin temperature measurements—high TDCE values were significantly associated with low finger skin temperature. A total of 31.1% of women and 6.9% of men complain of TDCE. In contrast, prevalence rates of DIS were only slightly higher in women in comparison to men (9.3% versus 6.7%, P < 0.1). Irrespective of gender, each seventh subject complaining of TDCE had concomitant DIS and the relative risk in these subjects was approximately doubled. Therefore, a thermophysiological approach to DIS may be relevant for its differential diagnosis and its treatment.

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