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Overview of Sleep Problems

Why is sleep important?

Sleep is not just resting or taking a break from busy routines. It is essential to physical and emotional health. Adequate sleep may also play a role in helping the body recover from illness and injury. Inadequate sleep over a period of time is associated with obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and depression.

The emotional and mental benefits of sleep are also significant. Even occasional sleep problems can make daily life feel more stressful and less productive. Some people with chronic insomnia are more likely to develop psychiatric problems. In a recent survey, those who said they had trouble getting enough sleep reported impaired ability to perform tasks involving:

  • Memory

  • Learning

  • Logical reasoning

  • Mathematical calculation

Facts about sleep disorders

Loss of sleep is believed to contribute to strained relationships at home and unfulfilled potential on the job, and can also be dangerous, leading to serious or even fatal accidents. Consider these facts from the National Sleep Foundation:

  • Sleep problems increase with aging.

  • Health care expenses and lost productivity from sleep deprivation cost billions of dollars a year.

  • Drowsy drivers take the blame for at least 100,000 police-reported crashes in the U.S. annually.

  • At least 40 million Americans report having sleep difficulties.

How much sleep is needed?

Although sleep needs vary from person to person, generally, most healthy adults need no more than of 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night. If you have some of the following problems, you may need more sleep, or a better quality of sleep, than you are getting:

  • Trouble staying alert during boring or monotonous activities

  • Tendency to be unreasonably irritable with coworkers, family, or friends

  • Difficulty concentrating or remembering facts

What are the different types of sleep problems?

There are many types of sleep problems. Disorders of sleeping and waking interfere with quality of life and personal health, and endanger public heath. These problems range from staying awake or having a regular sleep/wake cycle to sleepwalking, bedwetting, nightmares, insomnia, restless legs syndrome, snoring, and sleep apnea syndrome.

Help for sleep problems

For those who suffer from sleep disorders, help is available from many sources.

Sleep problems may be caused by or be the result of disorders in various systems of the body. Obstructive sleep apnea, for example, is a respiratory disorder while narcolepsy is a neurological disorder.

Sleep problems can be treated or managed by different medical specialties including internal medicine, pediatrics, family practice, pulmonary medicine, neurology, psychiatry, and otolaryngology.

However, other medical specialties also offer treatment for sleep disorders. Many rehabilitation facilities and anesthesiology departments sponsor comprehensive sleep disorder programs, as do mental health centers. The American Board of Sleep Medicine establishes standards and certification for doctors and scientists who wish to become certified in sleep medicine.

Talk with your health care provider about which sleep disorder program is right for you.

Online Medical Reviewer: MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Online Medical Reviewer: Nelson, Gail A., MS, APRN, BC
Last Review Date: 12/12/2013
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