Health Feature Articles
Insomnia remains the most common sleep disorder
There are a wide variety of sleep disorders that impact people of all different shapes and sizes according to Renette Wardlow, a human development specialist with University of Missouri Extension.
“Nearly all of us experience sleeplessness at one time or another. Unlike some problems we grow out of, insomnia remains with many of us through life, changing only in its intensity and its particular form,” said Wardlow.
Sleep problems can be divided into two basic categories: insomnia and then a group that includes all other sleep disorders.
Insomnia can be personally frustrating and exhausting at the same time.
“A person may be exhausted from missing sleep the previous night, but will still feel wired when they lay down,” said Wardlow. “Your mind is racing, your muscles are tight, and the more you try to relax, the more tense you become.”
Insomnia can lead to being draggy and irritable during the day and also make it hard to concentrate. In the evening, the lack of energy can lead to being apprehensive at bedtime and the whole cycle can begin again.
Wardlow notes that the quality of our sleep changes significantly over the course of our lifetime. Beginning gradually in our thirties and accelerating in our forties and fifties, we sleep less soundly. In particular, with increasing age many of us experience nighttime awakenings and a subsequent inability to get back to sleep.
“We cannot reverse these changes and sleep the way we did as children. But it can be comforting just to know the change in sleep habits with age is a normal human development, rather than a sign there is something wrong with you,” said Wardlow.
Although insomnia is the most common sleep disorder, it is not the only one. Other sleep problems include: nightmares, night terrors, sleep walking, sleep talking, snoring, night sweats, excessive daytime sleepiness, narcolepsy, kleine-levin syndrome (a rare disorder causing excessive daytime sleepiness), and REM Sleep Behavior Disorder (in rare instances sleepers act out their dreams).
Many medical problems and medications can affect sleep. But surprisingly, sleep medications can also make an insomnia problem worse.
“The short-term cure sometimes turns into long-term dependence,” said Wardlow.
Prescription sleeping pills and over-the-counter sleeping pills are used by a large number of people. Sleep medications do not really improve sleep; they make sleep shallower not deeper.
“If you choose to use sleep medications, remember they are at best a temporary solution with a potential for significant problems,” said Wardlow.
MAKE A CHANGE
Wardlow says most researchers recommend not staying in bed if you have been tossing and turning and unable to sleep for 10 to 20 minutes.
“The tossing and turning will make you feel more frustrated and tense. If you’ve been lying in bed awhile and you feel unable to sleep, it’s time to do something else. Turn on the light and read, or get up and go to another room,” said Wardlow. “Don’t think of time awake at night as lost time; instead, consider it new-found time that you can use creatively.”
Last Updated 10/03/2011