Dr. Steven Silas
July 20, 2009
According to the National Institutes of Health, more than 70 million Americans suffer from sleep disorders - serious but often overlooked ailments that can lead to high blood pressure, stroke and heart attack. The average person needs seven and a half hours of good quality sleep a night, although some may require only five hours and others may need as much as nine. Good quality sleep means a person experiences a repeating cycle of the five stages of sleep - stages one through four and REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep - throughout the night. Usually, those with poor quality sleep spend too much time in stages one and two.
Studies show driving while fatigued is as dangerous as driving after drinking. The National Sleep Foundation reports that being awake for 18 hours is comparable to having a blood alcohol concentration of .08 percent.
Frequent diagnoses for sleep disorders include obstructive sleep apnea, insomnia, restless leg syndrome, periodic limb movement disorder and narcolepsy. Treatment can include diet modification, sleep aids, surgery, medication or behavioral therapy.
If you are aware of one or more of these symptoms, you may have a sleep disorder.
One of the more concerning sleep disorders is obstructive sleep apnea, a condition where a person stops breathing for anywhere from 10 seconds to a minute. A person suffering form the condition may stop breathing hundreds of times during the night. The NIH estimates 12 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea, which if untreated can lead to high blood pressure, stroke and in extreme cases, heart attacks. Loud snoring, gasping while sleeping and waking often can be signs of the disorder, which may prohibit people from experiencing quality sleep. When a patient suffers from sleep apnea, oxygen levels drop when they stop breathing, causing the heart to work harder. When the patient begins breathing again, the heart slows down.
Risk Factors for Sleep Apnea
Treatments for Sleep Apnea
-American Sleep Apnea Association
Everyone has an occasional night of bad sleep. For most people insomnia lasts only a few days and goes away without treatment. But stress or depression can cause a higher level of insomnia that may last for several weeks. This kind of insomnia may not go away on its own.
If you have insomnia, you are not alone. It is a common sleep disorder. About 30 percent of adults have symptoms of insomnia. Less than 10 percent of adults are likely to have chronic insomnia. It is more common among elderly people and women. Some medical conditions cause insomnia, or it may be a side effect of a medication.
Insomnia is characterized as four things:
Symptoms of Insomnia:
- "Sleep Disorders." 2005. American Academy for Sleep Medicine www.sleepeducation.com.
Restless Leg Syndrome
Restless leg syndrome (RLS) is a strong urge to move your legs. This urge is very hard to resist. It often comes with other uneasy feelings deep inside the legs. You can have a very hard time trying to explain how this feels. The sensation might feel like burning, prickling, itching or tingling. It can even be more extreme and feel painful. These feelings, along with the urge to move, are made worse by rest. Lying or sitting still can be very hard. Temporary relief is found when you walk or move the legs. This relief tends to come right away.
The urge to move the legs grows worse at night and eases in the morning. RLS makes it very hard for you to rest or go to sleep. People with severe RLS may get less than five hours of sleep each night. This total sleep time is lower than with almost any other sleep disorder. Milder RLS will not disturb your sleep as much. People with RLS feel very tired and have less energy during the day. They also are more likely to suffer from depression or anxiety.
How do I know if I have it?
Periodic Leg Movements
Periodic leg movements are episodes of simple, repetitive muscle movements. You are unable to control them. While they don't usually keep you from falling asleep, they severely disrupt sleep during the night, causing fatigue during the day. They do not involve a change in the body position, stretching a muscle or a cramp. Instead, the movements tend to involve the tightening or flexing of a muscle. They occur most often in the lower legs. They can occur at two different times:
PLMS is considerably more common. When the movements occur often through the night, they can disrupt your sleep many times. Normally, you are unaware of the movements or of waking up. A typical movement is for the big toe to extend. Often the ankle, knee or hip also will bend slightly. Though less common, the movement also may occur in your upper arms. The degree to which these movements occur can change from night to night, but usually happen during non-Rapid Eye Movement sleep in the first half of the night. When these movements are very severe, they also may happen while you are awake (PLMW). PLMS occurs in both children and adults, but chances increase with age, making it very common in the elderly. It occurs in up to 34 percent of people over age 60. Studies have not yet shown how common it is in other age groups. No difference in rate has been noticed in males and females, and family pattern has not been studied in detail.
How do I know if I have PLMS?
This disorder may be a factor in causing you to have any of the following:
The National Sleep Foundation offers the following tips for getting enough sleep:
During the day: