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Sleep Sensitivity

The Hidden Dangers of Sleep Disorders

Photo: Courtesy of Maxime Caron

Ilene M. Rosen, M.D.

President, American Academy of Sleep Medicine

With all of life’s distractions, it can be hard to get a decent night of sleep. That task is considerably more difficult when you suffer from a sleep disorder. An ongoing sleep problem can reduce the quality and duration of your sleep, and it can have a negative impact on your health and well-being.

While there are many sleep disorders, there are five common problems that may be disrupting your sleep and harming your health.

Common sleep disorders

As many as 30 to 35 percent of adults have symptoms of insomnia, the most common sleep complaint. Insomnia occurs when you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. It can frustrate you at night and hinder your mood and productivity during the day. In addition to causing fatigue and irritability, insomnia can have a negative effect on decision-making and work performance.

Obstructive sleep apnea may be the most destructive sleep disorder. It occurs when your airway is repeatedly blocked, causing you to stop breathing during sleep. Common warning signs include loud snoring, gasping or choking sounds. Sleep apnea can make you feel tired even after getting a full night of sleep. Severe sleep apnea puts enormous stress on your heart and brain. When left untreated, sleep apnea can increase your risk of serious health problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke.

Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder that involves a problem with your brain’s signals. Excessive daytime sleepiness is the most common symptom. In addition to feeling tired, you may fall asleep quite suddenly during the day. People with narcolepsy also may have brief periods of muscle weakness. This can be triggered by sudden emotions such as laughter. Your knees may buckle or you may collapse to the floor.

Sleepwalking is a type of parasomnia, a sleep disorder that involves undesired events during sleep. Sleepwalking occurs when you get out of bed and move around during non-REM sleep. It can frighten onlookers, but sleepwalking is often harmless.

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) involves a strong urge to move your legs when you are resting or sitting still. You also may have a tugging, itching or tingling sensation. These symptoms are worse in the evening and at night. RLS can make it hard for you to fall asleep.

What to do

The good news is that sleep disorders can be treated effectively. Be sure to talk to your doctor about your sleep problems. He or she may refer you to an accredited sleep center, where you can get help from a board-certified sleep doctor. Treating a sleep disorder can help you achieve optimal health through better sleep.

Ilene M. Rosen, M.D., President, American Academy of Sleep Medicine, [email protected]

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