Sleep Problems

About 70 million Americans have some kind of sleep problem, and for many it’s a long-term problem. Even though sleep problems are very common, they are often not diagnosed or treated. Here are descriptions of some of the more common sleep problems.

Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea means that you stop breathing for more than 10 seconds at a time, many times while you sleep. Your throat muscles relax during sleep. Sometimes your airway can get blocked when this happens. The blockage slows or stops the movement of air, and the amount of oxygen in your blood drops. The drop in oxygen causes your brain to send a signal for you to wake up so that you can start breathing again. You may not remember waking up and you may be very sleepy the next day. If you snore and feel you do not usually get a good night’s rest, ask your healthcare provider if you might have sleep apnea.

Restless Legs Syndrome
Restless legs syndrome (RLS) causes you to have aching, twitching, tingling, burning, or prickling feelings in your lower leg muscles when you lie in bed. Rubbing your legs, getting up and walking around, or taking a hot shower may give short-term relief. But the feelings in your legs come back when you lie down.

Hypersomnia is extreme daytime sleepiness or very long nighttime sleep. You feel very drowsy during the day and have an overwhelming urge to fall asleep, even after getting enough sleep at night. You often doze, nap, or fall asleep at times when you need or want to be awake and alert. Other symptoms may include irritability, mild depression, trouble concentrating, and memory loss.

Narcolepsy is a problem that causes sudden, uncontrollable urges to sleep. You may fall asleep without any warning for several minutes or an hour at a time, even while talking, eating, or driving. Your body relaxes so completely and so suddenly that you may fall to the floor. You awaken refreshed but may fall asleep again in another hour or two.

Nightmares are scary dreams filled with frightening images and events. Most people have nightmares once in awhile, usually in the early morning hours. If you have nightmares often, it may be the result of drinking alcohol, or taking certain medicines, such as antidepressants, antihistamines, sleeping pills, or medicine to help you quit smoking. Nightmares may also be a sign of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or panic disorder.

Sleep Talking (Somniloquy)
Sleep talking is speaking or making sounds while you sleep, usually for no more than 30 seconds. You don’t remember what you said or even that you were talking. Sleep talking is not really a medical problem. However, it can be frustrating if it keeps someone else awake.

Sleepwalking (Somnambulism)
Sleepwalking is moving around during deep sleep in ways that most people do only when they are awake. Sleepwalking usually happens during the second or third hour of nighttime sleep. While you are sleepwalking:

  • You may do things such as getting dressed, opening and closing doors, turning lights on and off, cooking, or even driving a car.
  • You cannot be woken up no matter what you do.
  • Your eyes are open, but staring blankly.
  • You are not as well coordinated as when awake.

Sleepwalking most often happens in children 4 to 15 years old. It tends to run in families and happens more often in boys. It may also be caused by certain kinds of medicines.

When should I seek help?

It may help to keep a sleep diary. When you get up each morning, keep track of:

  • What time you went to bed and what time you woke up
  • How much time you think you actually slept
  • How many times you woke up during the night and what time it was each time you woke up
  • What you ate and drank, and if you smoked cigarettes before bed
  • Your feelings before bed. For example, did you felt stressed or nervous?
  • Your thoughts about how well you slept

If you sleep poorly for a month or more, or if you are so sleepy during the day that it interferes with normal tasks, see your healthcare provider. Your provider will ask about your symptoms and medical history and examine you.

Your provider may suggest that you spend a night in a sleep center. At the sleep center you will be monitored to see what happens while you sleep.

Most sleep disorders can be successfully treated or controlled once they are properly diagnosed.

You can get more information from:

Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-04-28
Last reviewed: 2014-04-28
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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