Even though sleep is a necessary element for mental and physical wellbeing, only approximately one-third of Americans get the recommended eight hours of sleep a night. One major national survey of adults in the United States found that more than 50 percent reported experiencing symptoms of insomnia several times a week. While you would probably say that you often feel sleepy at some point during the day (perhaps after a large meal or when facing a project you don't want to start), some people suffer from sleep disorders that inhibit their ability to sleep properly. The American Psychological Association (APA) defines sleep disorders as major disturbances to the regular sleep pattern that result in psychological distress and disrupt normal functioning during the day.
Insomnia is characterized by the inability to fall or stay asleep. It is by far the most common sleep disorder, with nearly 60 percent of American adults suffering from it at least once a week. People who suffer insomnia desire and feel the need for sleep, but for some reason are unable to get the amount of sleep their bodies need. Insomnia can be caused by a variety of things. It can be the result of psychological factors such as anxiety, worry, or depression; biological factors such as the effect of stimulants used before bed, arthritis, or hot flashes during menopause; or environmental factors such as noises emitted from loud neighbors, trains, or traffic.
While insomnia may seem to be just a nuisance, if you are unable to resolve the problem (such as avoiding caffeine or keeping a regular bedtime and rising schedule), see your doctor and discuss the problem. Sleep is vital to your mental and physical health, so take whatever measures you can to ensure proper rest for your body.
Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder in which a person's breathing stops for a moment, causing the person to choke, gasp, and wake up momentarily. Impacting an estimated 20 million Americans, it is the second most common sleep disorder. An individual suffering from sleep apnea will fall back asleep once normal breathing resumes and often doesn't even realize he has woken up. This can happen hundreds of times a night, thus interrupting the stages of sleep and causing exhaustion. Sleep apnea is a serious disorder and is potentially life threatening. It can also cause an irregular heart-beat or high blood pressure.
Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder in which a person suffers unpredictable attacks of daytime sleepiness. Onset of this disorder usually occurs during adolescence, and it affects an estimated 250,000 people in the United States. The urge to sleep is irresistible and can last anywhere from five to thirty minutes for each attack. Though this disorder has been the subject matter for several comedy skits, the condition is a serious neurological disorder and can cause the individual harm depending on what the person is doing when the attacks occur. People can fall asleep in the middle of a conversation, or most dangerously perhaps, a narcoleptic person may suffer an attack while driving and cause a serious accident.
Sleepwalking and Night Terrors
While insomnia, sleep apnea, and narcolepsy are most common among adults, sleepwalking and night terrors occur far more commonly among children. Sleepwalking, also known as somnambulism, is experienced by about 25 percent of all children at least once in their life. During one of these episodes, the child will leave his bed and walk around in a slow, uncoordinated manner. Night terrors are intense, vivid, and usually brief periods of fear. Symptoms include sweating, restlessness, increased heartbeat, and thrashing. While night terrors are dramatic and frightening, they are generally not viewed as a sleep disorder unless they occur on a regular, frequent basis.