Sleep Disorders: When Counting Sheep Doesn’t Cut It

There are few things more frustrating in life than sleeplessly staring at the ceiling in the middle of the night. You check the clock every few minutes to tally exactly just how much rest you’re not getting. Whether it’s the inability to fall or stay asleep, poor sleep quality, or waking up before the alarm clock even goes off, lack of sleep is a huge problem for Americans of all ages.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 35 percent of adults in the United States report getting less than seven hours of sleep in an average 24-hour period. In addition, as many as 23 percent only sleep six hours per night, and 12 percent get only five hours of shuteye per night.

How much sleep do we really need? The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) and the Sleep Research Society determined adults should aim for seven to nine hours of sleep per night. Children require even more sleep, with the AASM providing the following recommendations per 24-hour period:

  • Infants up to 12 months: 12-16 hours (including naps)
  • Children 1 to 2 years of age: 11-14 hours (including naps)
  • Children 3 to 5 years of age: 10-13 hours (including naps)
  • Children 6 to 12 years of age: nine to 12 hours
  • Teenagers 13 to 18 years of age: eight to 10 hours

Poor sleep habits are especially prevalent among teenagers, as the CDC reports that only 31 percent of high school students sleep the recommended eight hours or more. As students near graduation, their nightly sleep continues to decrease. Around 60 percent of freshmen report insufficient sleep, but by the time high schoolers reach their senior year, as many as 77 percent aren’t catching enough Z’s. Additionally, more females (71.3 percent) report sleeping less than seven hours per night than their male classmates (66.4 percent).

There are numerous factors contributing to our inability to get enough sleep, and some are as simple as staying up late to study or finish a project at work, caring for a sick child, or consuming too much caffeine late in the day. However, for millions of Americans, sleep is fleeting for more complicated reasons.

The American Sleep Association (ASA) reports that between 50 and 70 million adults in the United States have a sleep disorder, which is a medical disorder that affects sleeping and waking patterns. Close to 38 percent of Americans reported unintentionally falling asleep during the day at least once in the preceding month, with 4.7 percent admitting to falling asleep while driving once or more in the same time period.

Sleep disorders are classified into six major categories:

  • Insomnia: the inability to fall or stay asleep
  • Hypersomnia: excessive sleepiness, even while working or driving
  • Sleep-related breathing disorders: difficulty breathing during sleep, including the most common type, obstructive sleep apnea
  • Circadian rhythm sleep-wake disorders: when sleep times are out of alignment
  • Parasomnias: unwanted events or experiences that occur while falling asleep, sleeping or waking, such as sleep-walking, sleep talking, nightmares, night terrors and bed wetting
  • Sleep movement disorders: movement during or prior to sleep, such as restless legs syndrome, sleep leg cramps and bruxism (teeth grinding or clenching)

The ASA reports that of the above disorders, insomnia is the most common, with approximately 30 percent of adults experiencing short-term issues and 10 percent reporting chronic insomnia. Additionally, 25 million Americans have obstructive sleep apnea, affecting 24-31 percent of men and 9-21 percent of women.

According to Texas Health Resources’ Center for Sleep Disorders, symptoms of a sleep disorder include the following:

  • Excessive daytime sleepiness when you’re getting adequate sleep
  • Loud snoring
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Reduced memory and concentration
  • Sore throats or headaches in the morning
  • Excessive sweating at night
  • Workplace accidents or car accidents

Whether your mind is racing a million miles a minute or there’s an underlying medical problem, there are ways to create healthy sleep habits. The AASM provides these recommendations to encourage better sleep:

  • Practice consistency in your sleep schedule by rising at the same time every day of the week.
  • Set a bedtime that will allow for at least seven hours of sleep each night.
  • Don’t go to bed unless you’re sleepy, and get up if you don’t fall asleep after 20 minutes.
  • Create a quiet and relaxing space in your bedroom, establish calming bedtime rituals and only use your bed for sleep and sex.
  • Limit light exposure.
  • Don’t eat a large meal too close to bedtime.
  • Practice healthy eating habits, and exercise regularly.
  • Avoid caffeine in the late afternoon and evening.
  • Avoid alcohol before bedtime and reduce all fluid intake.

If you suspect that you have a sleep disorder or just can’t seem to figure out what’s keeping you up at night, call 1-877-THR-WELL (1-877-847-9355) to find a Texas Health Sleep Center or a physician near you.

Starlight, star bright, make everything alright. You must be my lucky star, because you make the darkness seem so far.

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