Uncovering sleep disorders

Better sleep leads to better health

Sleep is a panacea of sorts, a restorative state for mind and body. But if you’re one of the roughly 70 million Americans who have problems falling or staying asleep, a good night’s rest may be only a daydream—one that may have serious consequences for your health.

The Need for Sound Sleep

Sleep is an essential part of living. Our bodies need sleep to function properly. Without enough shut-eye, we’re more likely to experience moodiness, confusion, slowed reaction time, and a lack of concentration. A growing amount of research also shows that too little sleep too often is linked to diabetes, depression, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and even heart attacks.

Consider this: A recent study published in Circulation found that people who suffer from frequent insomnia have a higher risk of experiencing a heart attack. Women may be especially prone to heart attacks because of sleepless nights. During deep sleep your heart rate may rise and fall and your blood pressure may vary. Experts speculate that these fluctuations promote heart health.

Is It a Chronic Problem?

An occasional restless night likely isn’t a cause for concern. But if you suffer from chronic sleep problems, you may have a sleep disorder. One of the most common is insomnia, the inability to fall or stay asleep at least three nights a week for more than a month. Sleep apnea is another prominent sleep problem. People with sleep apnea periodically gasp or temporarily stop breathing while asleep, causing sleep interruptions.

Most adults function best after seven to nine hours of sleep. But each person’s sleep needs are different. Talk with your doctor about any sleep problems. You may have a sleep disorder if you experience any of the following on three or more nights a week:

  • You aren’t able to fall asleep within 30 minutes after going to bed.

  • You frequently wake up at night and have problems falling back asleep.

  • You feel sleepy during the day and may nod off unexpectedly.

  • You don’t feel well-rested after sleeping seven or more hours.

The reasons for unsound sleep vary from person to person. Some possible sleep-stealers include stress, caffeine, alcohol, certain medications, and conditions such as heartburn and arthritis. But bad sleep habits are often to blame. Simple lifestyle changes, such as following a consistent sleep schedule—going to sleep and awakening at the same time every day—and keeping your bedroom TV- and gadget-free can help alleviate many sleep problems. For chronic sleep troubles, your doctor may recommend medication or refer you to a sleep specialist.

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