No matter what age you are, there's a good chance that you don't get enough sleep. Sleep deprivation is extremely common in America, with over one-third of Americans not getting the amount of sleep recommended by health professionals. But lack of sleep isn't just frustrating or fatiguing, but is linked to many serious health problems. Sleep disorders come in many forms, and to celebrate World Sleep Day on March 19th, we've provided an overview of what you need to know about healthy sleep below.
The Facts About Sleep
One of the notable things about sleep deprivation is just how widespread it is, affecting Americans of all ages:
- 35 percent of Americans get less than the recommended seven hours of sleep per night.
- Since 1985, there has been a 31 percent increase in the number of adults getting less than six hours of sleep per night.
- 97 percent of teenagers get less than the recommended amount of sleep, and 70 percent of college students.
- Around 20 percent of Americans have a sleep disorder.
- The annual cost of sleep deprivation in the U.S. is $411 billion.
- 9 million Americans take prescription sleeping pills.
- 20 percent of car crashes are associated with driver sleepiness.
Sleep disorders encompass a wide range of conditions, as well. Among them are:
- Insomnia: 60 million Americans suffer from this.
- Sleep apnea: 22 million Americans.
- Restless Legs Syndrome: 12 million Americans.
- REM Sleep Behavior Disorder: 3 million Americans.
- Narcolepsy: 200,000 Americans.
Types of Sleep Disorders
There's a good chance you've had a bout of insomnia before. Having trouble falling or staying asleep is the hallmark of this disorder, but it can take many different forms for different people. Some have acute insomnia, which lasts from one night to a few weeks, and some have chronic insomnia, which can interrupt sleep for at least three nights a week for three months or more.
Other symptoms of insomnia may include daytime sleepiness, fatigue, irritability, and problems with memory or concentration.
Insomnia can have many causes, defined by two major types:
- Primary insomnia, in which sleep problems are not linked to health issues. Its causes may include:
- Stress related to life events.
- Environmental factors: noise, light, or temperature.
- Changes to sleep schedule or bad sleep habits.
Secondary insomnia, in which a health condition or substance use causes disturbed sleep. Its causes may include:
- Mental health issues: depression or anxiety.
- Pain or discomfort.
- Substance use: tobacco, caffeine, or alcohol.
- Endocrine problems such as hyperthyroid.
- Other sleep disorders: sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome.
A disorder that interrupts your breathing during sleep. A number of types are present here as well:
- Obstructive sleep apnea, caused by your throat muscles relaxing while you sleep.
- Central sleep apnea, which occurs when your brain doesn't send the right signals to muscles that control your breathing.
- Complex sleep apnea syndrome, a combination of the above types.
Signs of sleep apnea can include:
- Loud snoring.
- Gasping for air.
- Apnea: temporary pauses in breathing.
- Hypersomnia: excessive daytime sleepiness.
- Concentration issues.
- Morning dry mouth.
- Morning headache.
It can be difficult to recognize sleep apnea yourself. If you or a partner notices any of these symptoms, schedule a sleep study.
A condition characterized by excessive daytime sleepiness, but there are other conditions that can occur alongside narcolepsy:
- Cataplexy, a sudden event that causes muscle weakness and slurred speech, usually triggered by intense emotions such as laughter, anger, or fear.
- Sleep paralysis, in which a patient is temporarily unable to move or speak when falling asleep or waking.
- Changes in REM sleep.
- Hallucinations as you fall asleep or wake.
Narcolepsy's causes are unknown, but are associated with low levels of hypocretin, a chemical in the brain that regulates wakefulness and REM sleep.
Restless Legs Syndrome
A condition that causes a compulsion to move your legs, typically due to discomfort. For those with RLS, moving their legs eases unpleasant sensations in the legs, which can be described as aching, itching, throbbing, pulling, electric, crawling, or creeping. These sensations worsen at night and typically begin when you're at rest.
The causes of RLS are uncertain, but it may be due to an imbalance of dopamine, a chemical in the brain that controls muscle movement.
REM Sleep Behavior Disorder
This is a condition that occurs during Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, which is associated with dreaming. Those with this disorder are often absent the physical paralysis that accompanies REM sleep, and physically act out sensations from their dreams. This can cause punching, kicking, jumping from bed, grabbing, and flailing arms, among other reactions.
Its causes are unknown, but it has been heavily associated with degenerative neurological conditions like Parkinson's disease and multisystem atrophy. Nearly half of all cases involve withdrawal from alcohol or certain sedative-hypnotic medications.
Complications of Sleep Disorders
Lack of sleep isn't just about feeling tired the next day. Sleep deprivation is a factor in many other health issues, such as:
- High blood pressure.
- Heart disease.
- Heart attack.
- Irregular heartbeat.
- Depression: affects 75 percent of people who suffer from lack of sleep.
- Low testosterone levels.
- Reduced sex drive.
In addition, the concentration issues and tiredness caused by lack of sleep can cause car accidents or workplace accidents. Sleep disorders can also cause interference in your professional or social life, as many people do not understand these disorders and the effect they may have on your workplace performance or ability to socialize.
Treating Sleep Disorders
Just as there's no single sleep disorder, there's no single treatment. But doctors suggest some guidelines for getting yourself into good sleep habits that may improve your sleep:
- Consistency and routine: Sleep and wake at the same hours every day. Have a pre-sleep routine that relaxes you.
- Prepare your environment: make your bedroom comfortable, quiet, and dark so that you have a minimum of disturbances.
- Avoid anxiety: make a to-do list for the next day so that you're not restless, worrying about your responsibilities.
- Avoid harsh light before sleep, such as from your phone.
- Limit consumption of substances late in the day that might interrupt sleep, such as alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine. Also avoid eating heavy foods late.
- Get regular exercise early in the day.