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Sleep Issues & Problems

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Do you find it difficult to get out of bed in the morning? Do you sometimes feel sleepy while watching television or driving? If so, you may be one of the millions of Americans who suffer from excessive sleepiness, a condition that can significantly reduce quality of life, decrease productivity and interfere with relationships. Most people feel tired occasionally, but excessive sleepiness that persists is neither normal nor healthy.

One of the primary causes of excessive sleepiness among Americans is self-imposed sleep deprivation. In the U.S. and many other parts of the world, sleep loss may occur as a result of economic or societal pressures. People may skimp on sleep in hopes of getting more done, and widespread access to technology makes it possible to stay busy (at the computer, for example) around the clock. By some estimates, people now sleep about 20 percent less than they did a century ago.

Working at night and sleeping during the day can also cause excessive sleepiness. Some people are able to adjust to such a schedule. However, others may never overcome the body’s natural tendency to be awake during the day and asleep at night. A similar phenomenon occurs with jet lag, in which the body is “out of sync” with the natural environment. In general, symptoms of jet lag increase with the number of time zones crossed. That is, someone flying from Beijing to San Francisco is more likely to suffer worse jet lag than someone flying from San Francisco to New York.

Excessive sleepiness is also linked with a number of primary sleep disorders. For example, sleep disordered breathing (SDB), which includes snoring and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), is often associated with excessive sleepiness. Because SDB may result in frequent interruptions during sleep, it can lead to abnormal sleepiness during waking hours no matter how many hours a person actually spent in bed.

Insomnia is another main cause of perceived daytime sleepiness or fatigue. Insomnia symptoms may include difficulty falling asleep, difficulty staying asleep, and/or waking up still tired as well as daytime impairments such as excessive sleepiness, cognitive deficits (e.g., concentration and memory problems), fatigue, and irritability.

Narcolepsy is a neurological disorder characterized by disabling sleepiness. Most patients begin to experience symptoms in their teens or 20s, but symptoms may appear in younger children or older adults. Narcolepsy is also recognized by insomnia at bedtime, sudden sleep attacks, cataplexy (sudden muscular weakness), hallucinations, and sleep paralysis.

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a neurological disorder characterized by unpleasant sensations in the legs and a strong urge to move them. People who suffer from RLS may mistake the problem for insomnia since RLS symptoms are usually worse at night, leading to insomnia at night and excessive sleepiness during the day.

The good news is that these sleep disorders can be easily diagnosed and effectively treated. If you have excessive daytime sleepiness and/or feel you may suffer from a sleep disorder, talk to a healthcare professional about the problem as soon as possible.

Excessive sleepiness may also be caused by a variety of physical and mental illnesses as well as some medications. If you suffer from a medical condition and you are experiencing excessive sleepiness, talk to your healthcare professional about the problem. In many cases, properly treating the medical condition may alleviate sleepiness. In other cases, sleepiness must be treated independently.

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