Whether wide-eyed over an upcoming presentation or riding the waves of a midnight caffeine jolt, many people suffer from the occasional restless night with missed sleep.
But habitual tossing and turning may be the result of a more serious sleep problem or sleep disorder. Insomnia, apnea and sleepwalking are a few of the common disorders that could lead to sleep deprivation. And that can cause irritability, difficulty concentrating, frequent napping, emotional outbursts and complications in work and relationships.
Kaye Liles, manager of Pulmonary Laboratories for the Memorial Medical Center/Southern Illinois University School of Medicine, and Dr. Jerry Reedy, medical director of the Sleep Lab at St. John’s Hospital, offer advice to help individuals recognize symptoms. They also offer treatments for combating sleep disorders.
How much is enough?
Sleep is essential to good health and long life. Studies have shown that sleep-related problems and disorders can play a role in stroke, asthma, epilepsy, and seizures.
How much sleep you need depends on your age. Kaye said that:
* Toddlers need about 10-12 hours (including naps) during a 24-hour period devoted to sleep.
* Teenagers need eight to nine hours.
* Adults and senior citizens need seven to eight hours.
“Those (senior citizens) that sleep five to six hours generally nap in the afternoon,” she says. They generally need the same amount of sleep as younger adults.”
Why sleep slips away
Sometimes, you’re your own worst enemy when it comes to getting a good night’s sleep.
Eating foods loaded with fat and spices and drinking caffeine and alcohol may upset your sleeping patterns.
“The common misconception with alcohol is that people drink it thinking that it will help them fall asleep,” Kaye says. “While alcohol does cause people to fall asleep quickly, it also leads to fragmented and disrupted sleep.”
Reedy calls these “mal-adaptive behaviors. People think they’re doing the right thing, but it actually disrupts the sleep process.”
Kaye also says exercising late in the evening stimulates the body and can lead to difficulty sleeping. “A person should exercise at least four to six hours prior to bedtime,” she says.
Your “environment” before bed can also lead to a loss of sleep.
Avoid going to sleep with a light or television on, because these may be disruptive during the night.
“Singing yourself to sleep” by listening to music also can have a negative affect on a good night’s rest.
“(Practicing poor sleeping habits) is called poor sleep hygiene,” Reedy says. “It creates an environment that’s not conducive for sleeping.”
Parasomnias, insomnia, apnea
Some causes of sleep disruption may require treatment.
Parasomnias, or disrupted sleep-related disorders, are characterized by experiences such as nightmares and sleepwalking. Nightmare disorder, also called dream anxiety attack, is associated with increased heart rate and increased breathing. Individuals who sleepwalk may wander aimlessly from room to room, carry objects, walk outdoors and even perform more complex activities, such as driving.
Insomnia — a short-term or chronic inability to get high-quality sleep — takes on three forms.
Reedy said sleep onset insomnia keeps an individual from falling asleep. The second, sleep maintenance insomnia, makes it difficult for individuals to return to sleep once they have awakened. Early awakening insomnia causes an individual to wake up before the desired time without returning to sleep.
“It’s a big cost burden to society as far as loss of production at work,” he says.
Treatments for insomnia primarily involve treating the underlying problem(s), such as stress. Self-help techniques, including improved sleep hygiene, relaxation and cognitive behavioral therapy, can alleviate insomnia.
Patients with sleep apnea may experience shallow breathing. Pauses between each breath typically last 10 to 20 seconds, and pauses can occur 20 to 30 times or more per hour. Symptoms may include gasping or choking, loud snoring or excessive daytime fatigue.
“Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the airway collapses due to large tonsils or excessive tissue in the uvula or soft palette,” Kaye says.
A CPAP machine, a device worn while sleeping, can be used to treat apnea.
“The machine pushes air into the airway to keep it open,” says Kaye.
Consulting a physician
If a sleeping problem “is a source of anxiety or stress, or if it causes daytime problems, such as driving or poor motivation, consult a doctor,” Reedy says.
He lists common questions to ask a physician.
* How much sleep does a person my age require?
* Is it normal to have some awakenings at night?
* Is there any influence the medications I’m taking could have on my sleep?
* Are there any lifestyle changes I could make to improve sleeping?
* Create a comfortable, relaxing environment. Try using blackout blinds, a humidifier or fan, or air conditioning, if necessary.
* Minimize distractions by avoiding disrupting clocks or bright lights.
* If you don’t fall asleep within 15-30 minutes, get up and return to bed when you feel sleepy.
author: Sara Browning