Everyone has a "bad night" once in a while. Dogs
barking, the wind howling, or overeating may make it hard to sleep. It is
estimated that 35% of adults have occasional sleep problems, which can have
The medical term for trouble falling
asleep or staying asleep is insomnia. Insomnia can include:
But insomnia usually is not a problem unless it makes you
feel tired during the day. If you are less sleepy at night or wake up early but
still feel rested and alert, there usually is little need to worry.
Fortunately, home treatment measures successfully relieve occasional
Occasional insomnia may be caused by noise, extreme
jet lag, changes in your sleep environment, or a change in your sleep
pattern, such as shift work. Insomnia may also be caused by temporary or
situational life stresses, such as a traumatic event or an impending deadline.
Your insomnia is likely to disappear when the cause of your sleep problem goes
Sleep apnea is one of several
sleep disorders. Sleep apnea refers to repeated episodes of not breathing
during sleep for at least 10 seconds (apneic episodes). It usually is caused by
a blockage in the nose, mouth, or throat (upper airways). When airflow through
the nose and mouth is blocked, breathing may stop for 10 seconds or longer.
People who have sleep apnea usually snore loudly and are very tired during the
day. It can affect children and adults.
Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder that has
distinct symptoms, including:
Parasomnias are undesirable physical
activities that occur during sleep involving skeletal muscle activity,
nervous system changes, or both. Night terrors and
sleepwalking are two types of parasomnias. Sleep can be hard for people
who experience parasomnias. While "asleep," a person with parasomnia may walk,
scream, rearrange furniture, eat odd foods, or pick up a weapon.
Parasomnia can cause odd, distressing, and sometimes dangerous nighttime
activities. These disorders have medically explainable causes and usually are
Restless legs syndrome (RLS)
is a condition that produces an intense feeling of discomfort, aching, or
twitching deep inside the legs. Jerking movements may affect the toes, ankles,
knees, and hips. Moving the legs or walking around usually relieves the
discomfort for a short time.
The exact cause of restless legs
syndrome is not known. The symptoms of restless legs syndrome most often occur
while a person is asleep or is trying to fall asleep. The twitching or jerking
leg movements may wake the person up, causing insomnia, unrestful sleep, and
When a sleep problem or lack of time keeps you from
getting a good night's sleep,
excessive daytime sleepiness may occur. While almost
everyone experiences daytime sleepiness from time to time, it can have serious
consequences such as motor vehicle accidents, poor work or school performance,
and work-related accidents.
Sleep problems may be a symptom of a
medical or mental health problem. It is important to consider whether a medical
or mental health problem is causing you to sleep poorly. Treating a long-term
sleep problem without looking for the cause may hide the real reason for your
Check your symptoms to decide if and
when you should see a doctor.
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How much sleep a person needs varies
from person to person. The number of hours you sleep is not as important as how
you feel when you wake up. If you do not feel refreshed, you probably need
more sleep. Feeling tired during the daytime is another sign you are not
getting enough sleep. The average total nightly sleep time is 7½ to 8 hours.
Healthy adults can require anywhere from 4 to 10 hours of sleep. Many times,
simple home treatment can help you get the sleep you need.
sleep problem does not require a visit to your doctor, establish a routine to
promote good sleep habits:
When you can't get to sleep, try the following:
Avoid activities that might keep you from a good night's
nonprescription medicine, such as Nytol, Sleep-Eze, or
Sominex. Use nonprescription medicines wisely since they can cause daytime
confusion, memory loss, and dizziness. Continued use of sleeping pills may
actually increase your sleeplessness (rebound insomnia). If you take any
prescription medicines, talk with your doctor before trying any nonprescription
Melatonin is a popular herbal remedy
for sleep problems. Experts disagree about its usefulness for sleep problems.
Before using any treatment, it is important to consider the risks and benefits
of the treatment. For more information, see the topic
If you have several nights of
trouble sleeping, review all of your prescription and nonprescription
medicines with your doctor or pharmacist to determine whether the medicines you
take could be the cause of your sleep problem.
You may have sleep
problems after traveling (jet lag), especially if you change time zones.
Call your doctor if any of the following occur during home
Many sleep problems can be prevented. Avoid
activities that might keep you from a good night's sleep.
You may be able to prevent sleep problems caused by jet lag by staying hydrated with water and avoiding caffeine, such as coffee.
Children also need plenty of sleep to grow and develop. It's important to help your child and yourself to sleep well with a good bedtime routine.
To prepare for your appointment, see the topic Making the Most of Your Appointment.
You can help your
doctor diagnose and treat your condition by being prepared to answer the
Before visiting your doctor, keep a sleep diary(What is a PDF document?) of your sleep patterns for at least 2
November 27, 2012
William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
& David Messenger, MD
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