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Sleep Disorders ::
Sleep disorders are sleep problems that, if untreated, can affect a
person's physical health, daily activities, and mental health. More than
the once-in-a-while tossing and turning or waking up early, sleep
disorders are medical conditions that can potentially be serious. But,
there is treatment for all of these disorders. Talk with your health care
provider if you think you may have a sleep disorder.
Common sleep disorders include:
Why do I need to worry about sleep?
Sleep apnea. People with sleep apnea stop breathing for
a very short time many times during the night. Its main symptoms are
loud snoring and feeling sleepy during the day. People with this
disorder don't get enough restful sleep at night, making it hard for
them to function during the day. Sleep apnea can lead to high blood
pressure, heart failure, heart attack, and stroke.
Click here to find
out more about Sleep Apnea.
Narcolepsy. When a person has narcolepsy, brain messages
about when to sleep and when to be awake get mixed up. This can make a
person fall asleep when they don't want to, often without any warning
like feeling drowsy. If not controlled with medication, this disorder
can cause serious problems in a person's personal, social, and work
life. It can also limit a person's activities, such as driving a car,
work, and exercising. This disorder may run in families.
Click here to find
out more about Sleep Apnea.
Restless legs syndrome. A person with this disorder can
have unpleasant feelings or sensations in the legs, mostly in the calves
or lower legs. In some cases, the arms may also be affected. These
feelings are often described as creeping, crawling, tingling, pulling,
or painful. This disorder can be hard to diagnose and is sometimes
mistaken for nervousness, insomnia, stress, or arthritis. It
seems to affect women more often than men.
Click here to find out more
about Sleep Apnea.
Insomnia. People with insomnia have trouble falling
asleep or staying asleep during the night. They can wake up often during
the night and have difficulty getting back to sleep, or they can wake up
too early in the morning. Sleep does not feel satisfying when a person
has insomnia. A person can feel sleepy, tired, and irritable during the
day and have trouble focusing on tasks.
Click here to find out
more about Sleep Apnea.
If you are having problems with sleeping, you are not alone.
We all know how great we feel when we've had a good night's sleep - we
are ready to take on the day and handle whatever may come. But when we've
had a bad night's sleep, we also all know the toll it can take on every
part of our lives the next day. Sleep can affect not only how we function
during the day, but it can also affect our physical and mental health. Not
getting enough sleep, even just for one night, can affect our moods and
our ability to focus, make decisions, and remember things. When we don't
get enough sleep over a period of time, our "sleep debt" adds up and can
cause serious problems, such as heart problems, depression, and anxiety.
Over time, long-term sleep problems can also affect relationships, work,
and quality of life.
What happens when you sleep?
Many people think of sleep as a passive activity, but sleep is actually
an active state. It restores us, helps the body to repair damage and grow
new cells, keeps the body's nervous system working properly, and helps us
to consolidate memory (helps us to remember what we learned during the
day). During sleep, a person passes through 5 phases, or stages, of sleep
- stages 1, 2, 3, 4 of quiet sleep and stage 5, called REM (rapid eye
Stage 1 sleep is light sleep, where we drift in and out
of sleep and can be woken up easily. Eyes move very slowly and muscle
activity slows down.
A person spends almost half of their total sleep time in
Stage 2 sleep. Eye movements stop and brain waves (or activity) become
Stages 3 and 4 are called deep sleep. During Stage 3
sleep, brain waves slow down even more and the brain makes mostly
delta waves (slow brain waves). The brain makes only delta waves
during Stage 4 sleep and there is no eye movement or muscle activity.
People often feel groggy and disoriented for a few minutes when they are
woken up during deep sleep. Some children have bedwetting, night
terrors, or sleepwalking during deep sleep. Deep sleep restores us,
helping to grow new cells and repair cells from damage.
A person's breathing becomes more rapid, irregular, and
shallow in REM sleep. The eyes jerk quickly in many directions, heart
rate increases, and blood pressure rises. When people wake up during REM
sleep, they often describe strange dreams that don't make any sense.
Most dreaming happens during REM sleep. REM sleep is important, perhaps
in part because it stimulates the parts of the brain that help us learn.
A person cycles through these 5 stages of sleep during the night. The
first sleep cycles contain short REM periods and long periods of deep
sleep. REM sleep periods become longer in length while deep sleep
decreases. By morning, almost all sleep time is in stages 1, 2, and REM.
How much sleep does a person need?
There is no hard and fast answer to this question. The amount of sleep
a person needs depends on many things, including age. Most adults need at
least 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night, although some people may need as
many as 10 hours. Children and adolescents need about 9 hours of sleep,
while young infants may need around 16 hours per day. Women in the first 3
months of pregnancy often need a few more hours of sleep than normal, and
sleep quality is decreased. When people sleep too little over a period of
a few days, they build up a "sleep debt," like being overdrawn at a bank.
This debt needs to be repaid sooner or later. A person's body is not able
to get used to less sleep than they need. Aging does not seem to change
the amount of sleep a person needs, although older people tend to sleep
more lightly and for shorter periods of time. About half of the people
over 65 have frequent sleeping problems, such as insomnia, and deep sleep
stages that are shortened or completely stopped. These changes in sleep
may be a normal part of aging, or can be caused by medications or
treatments for other health problems.
How can I tell if I have a sleep problem or a sleep
Because so many people "burn the candle at both ends" and have large
sleep debts, sleep problems are common. Side effects from medications or
treatments and stress and worry can also cause sleep problems. For women,
hormone changes during pregnancy, menopause, and the menstrual cycle can
cause sleep problems.
Sleep experts say that if you feel sleepy during the day, even when
doing something boring, you haven't had enough sleep. If you usually fall
asleep within 5 minutes of lying down, you probably have a severe sleep
debt, maybe even a sleep disorder. Very short periods of sleep throughout
the day (sometimes you may not even know that you are sleeping) are also
another sign of a sleep disorder. To learn about the signs for the most
common sleep disorders, read the sleep disorder-related topics (sleep apnea,
narcolepsy, restless legs syndrome, and insomnia) on this site. Talk with
your health care provider if you are having a problem with sleep or think
that you may have a sleep disorder.
What can I do to get a good night's sleep?
Good sleep habits can help you get a good night's sleep. Here are some
Try to go to bed at the same time every night and get up
at the same time every morning. Try not to take naps during the day
because naps may make you less sleepy at night.
Try to avoid caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol late in the
day. Caffeine and nicotine are stimulants and can keep you from falling
asleep. Alcohol can make you wake up later in the night.
Get regular exercise. Try not to exercise close to
bedtime because it may stimulate you and make it hard to fall asleep.
Experts suggest not exercising for 3 hours before the time you go to
Don't eat a big meal late in the day, although a light
snack before bedtime may help you sleep.
Make your sleeping place comfortable. Be sure that it is
dark, quiet, and not too warm or too cold. If light is a problem, try a
sleeping mask. If noise is a problem, try earplugs, a fan, or a "white
noise" machine to cover up the sounds.
Create a routine to help you relax and wind down before
sleep, such as reading a book or taking a bath. Watching the news just
before bed may keep some people awake, especially if the news is
Try not to use your bed for anything other than sleeping
If you can't fall asleep and don't feel sleepy, get up
and do something else until you feel sleepy. Just make sure that you
don't do anything stimulating.
If you have trouble lying awake worrying about things,
try making a to-do list before you go to bed. This may help you to "let
go" of those worries overnight.
See your health care provider if you think you have a
sleep problem or a sleep disorder.
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