Is it difficult for you to fall asleep or stay asleep through the night? Do you wake up feeling tired? Do you feel sleepy during the day, even if you think you've had enough sleep? You might have a sleep disorder. There are many treatments for sleep disorders and ways to make sure you are getting enough healthy sleep.
A variety of conditions plague the sleep of Americans. These sleep disorders include:
- sleep apnea (a condition that causes pauses in breathing, shallow breaths, and occasionally snoring during sleep)
- insomnia (trouble falling or staying asleep)
- restless legs syndrome
- narcolepsy (extreme daytime sleepiness), and
- parasomnias (abnormal sleep behaviors).
Add to those challenges the demands of daily life that require many people to cut short the hours they spend sleeping each night, and the sleep problem becomes even greater, according to Michael J. Twery, Ph.D., director of the National Center on Sleep Disorders Research in NIH's National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI).
The alarm bell for sleep disorders is that unlike many other medical conditions, your healthcare provider depends on you to explain the problem, which occurs in the privacy of your bedroom while you are sleeping. There is no pain associated with sleep disorders. Instead, people often have daytime symptoms, such as a morning headache or daytime sleepiness. There is no blood test to help diagnose a sleep disorder. Instead, successful diagnosis depends on the patient. It is important to discuss your symptoms with your physician so he or she can help you determine if you have sleep apnea or another sleep disorder.
"As many as 30 percent or more of U.S. adults are not getting enough sleep," says Dr. Twery. Chronic sleep loss and sleep disorders are estimated to cost the nation as much as $16 billion in healthcare expenses and $50 billion in lost productivity.
The consequences can be severe. Drowsy driving, for example, is responsible for an estimated 1,500 fatalities and 40,000 nonfatal injuries each year.
"It's actually quite serious," says Daniel Chapman, Ph.D., MSc, at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). "Drowsy driving was implicated in about 16 percent of fatal crashes and about 13 percent of crashes resulting in hospitalization."
Dr. Chapman says sleep is as important to health as eating right and getting enough physical activity. And research has been finding that lack of sleep—like poor diet and lack of physical activity—has been associated with weight gain and diabetes.
Sleep Disorder Symptoms
Look over this list of common signs of a sleep disorder, and talk to your healthcare provider if you have any of these signs on three or more nights a week:
- It typically takes you more than 30 minutes to fall asleep at night.
- You awaken frequently in the night and have trouble falling back to sleep.
- You awaken too early in the morning.
- You often don't feel well rested despite spending seven to eight hours or more asleep at night.
- You feel sleepy during the day and fall asleep within five minutes if you have an opportunity to nap, or you fall asleep unexpectedly or at inappropriate times during the day.
- Your bed partner reports that you snore loudly, snort, or make choking sounds while you sleep, or your partner notices your breathing stops for short periods.
- You have creeping, tingling feelings in your legs that are relieved by moving or massaging them, especially in the evening or when you try to fall asleep.
- You have vivid, dreamlike experiences while falling asleep or dozing.
- You have episodes of sudden muscle weakness when you are angry or fearful, or when you laugh.
- You feel as though you cannot move when you first wake up.
- Your bed partner notes that your legs or arms jerk often during sleep.
- You regularly depend on wake-promoting products, such as caffeinated beverages, to stay awake during the day.
Also keep in mind that the symptoms of a sleep problem in children can be complicated. Some children may show signs of excessive daytime sleepiness, while others may not do their best in school. Discuss such symptoms with a physician.
The need for sleep may be nine hours or more a night as a person goes through adolescence. At the same time, there is a natural biological tendency for young adults to show a preference for a later bedtime and a later wake time in the morning. This natural tendency to start sleeping later can conflict with daytime schedules, leading to insufficient sleep.
"We think that as many as 70 percent of adolescents are not obtaining enough sleep, according to survey data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention," says Dr. Twery.