These are the nights of our lives…
"I don't want to go to bed!" – Alex, age 4
"Why can't I stay out until 1 a.m.?" – Juliet, age 17
"Just 10 more minutes …" [hits the snooze button for the second time on Monday morning] – Dave, age 30
[Tossing and turning at 3 a.m.] "I can't sleep!" – Vivian, age 53
[Sleeping and snoring at 2 p.m.] – Russell, age 84
Having to go to bed, get out of bed or actually fall asleep can elicit some dramatic responses at any age. The fact is that everybody needs sleep for mental and physical wellness – without it, you increase your risk for accidents, illness, mood swings and poor judgment when making decisions.
About 40 million Americans suffer from long-term sleep disorders, and an additional 20 million experience occasional sleeping problems.* If you or a loved one has difficulty sleeping, it can negatively affect not only the one with the disorder, but everyone in the household. Learning about sleep disorders and the steps to treat them can make the world turn easier for all involved.
Common Sleep Disorders
Many sleep problems are minor and are eventually outgrown or temporary. Others may require medical attention.
- Bed wetting. Although not considered abnormal during preschool ages, bed wetting that happens later on could be due to another sleep disorder or late development of the ability to wake up when the bladder is full. Children should avoid drinking a lot in the evening and should go to the bathroom before bed.
- Sleep walking and sleep talking. Sleep walking is more common in young children than teens and adults. Sleep walking occurs during deep sleep cycles, and a sleepwalker will likely not remember it. Gently guide a sleepwalker back to bed. Sleep talking, crying or laughing is usually not a cause for concern (although it may be disruptive to others who are trying to sleep). Both sleep walking and sleep talking could signify a person is under stress or not getting enough sleep.
- Nightmares. Frightening dreams that bring about strong feelings of terror and wake the sleeper are more common in children, but adults can experience them as well. Stress and anxiety are typical causes of nightmares. Illness or medication side effects can also trigger them. Reducing stress is important to decrease the likelihood of nightmares. If nightmares happen frequently, talk with your doctor. Physical, neurological or psychological tests may be able to determine the reason and treatment to help you or a loved one get peaceful sleep.
- Narcolepsy. Excessive daytime sleepiness and sudden "sleep attacks" are symptoms of narcolepsy. It's a neurological disorder of sleep regulation and usually begins between the ages of 15 and 25. Narcolepsy is a lifelong condition, but treatment can help control symptoms.
- Insomnia. If you've ever had difficulty with falling asleep, staying asleep, early morning awakenings or unrefreshing sleep, you've experienced insomnia. It's the most common sleep disorder, and happens to everyone at one time or another. When it occurs regularly (three nights or more a week for a month or longer), a professional evaluation such as a sleep study can help identify sleep barriers and a course of action to help you get the sleep you need.
- Restless legs syndrome. People who have restless legs syndrome (RLS) feel strong urges to keep their legs moving. Tingling, itching, burning or even painful sensations occur in the legs and make it difficult to fall asleep. It may be difficult to pinpoint the exact cause if you have RLS, but tobacco, caffeine and alcohol may make symptoms worse. RLS may occur temporarily if you have anemia or are pregnant. Lifestyle changes and/or medication can help lessen the effects of RLS.
- Obstructive sleep apnea. Snoring and pauses in breathing are symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a common and potentially dangerous sleep disorder. It may coincide with conditions such as cardiovascular problems and obesity. Interruptions in breathing can happen hundreds of times during the night, causing chronic fatigue. A sleep study can help diagnose OSA. Therapeutic devices are available to help open a blocked airway and control OSA symptoms. In some cases, surgery may be necessary.
Ways to Improve Sleep
How Much Sleep Do We Need?
The CDC recommends the following amounts of sleep based on age:
| Infants, birth-2 months
| Infants, 3-11 months
| Toddlers, 1-3 years
| Children, 3-5 years
| Children, 5-10 years
| Adolescents, 10-17 years
To lessen the chance for sleep disorders and to help you feel and look your best, use these tips to get the Zzzzs you need:
- Have a consistent bedtime and wake-up time. Try to go to bed and get up at the same times each day; it keeps your body on a healthy sleep cycle.
- Relax before bedtime. Read, take a bath or listen to soothing music. Avoid caffeine, electronic devices and high-action TV shows or movies before bed.
- Create a cozy den. Keep your bedroom as dark and free of distracting noise as possible and at a comfortable temperature.
- Exercise, but do it early. Working out for 20 to 30 minutes a day can help you sleep better. Try to time your workout to be five hours or more before you go to bed.
- Leave napping for the little ones. The more sleep you get during the day, the less sleep you'll likely get at night.
- Don't lie in bed awake. It's best to get up and do something until you feel sleepy.
Seek Help for Chronic Sleep Problems
You don't have to live with stress or sleep disorders that reduce your quality of life and that of those you love. Consider keeping a sleep problems journal and make an appointment to see your doctor. He or she can work with you to help turn off the drama of restless nights and make sound sleep a reality.
* Source: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, www.ninds.nih.gov.
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