Some of us have no trouble falling asleep, taking as little as one to two minutes to enter twilight zone sleep. As in the case for all human functions, there is quite a bit of variation among us as to our capacity to sleep. Some are simply better at it than others, being able to dim their arousal switches with annoying ease and have their sleep center dominate within minutes. The vast majority of us take sleep for granted. It is just something that we do, like eating or taking a shower. But as we have learned, getting a good night’s sleep is a problem of major proportions for a substantial part of our population.
Optimal human health only exists if sleep is entirely healthy. More than fifty percent of Americans suffer from one or more chronic sleep disorders. “I am tired,” “I have fatigue,” “I have no energy,” “I am exhausted” are all the phrases used by people to describe how they feel when discussing a sleep problem with their doctor.
There are different types of sleep disorders:
* Sleep Apnea – Between 70-90 percent of those who suffer from it are men, mostly middle-ages, and usually overweight. The vast majority snore heavily. The problem is a neuromuscular one that results in partial closing of an airway called the nasal pharynx while one sleeps. Apnea is Greek in origin and that literally means “without breath.” It is estimated that 30 million Americans snore, and of that, 2.5 million of them suffer from sleep apnea. Those who suffer from sleep apnea actually stop breathing as they sleep, perhaps as often as several hundred times per night.
* Narcolepsy – It is a chronic neurological disorder caused by abnormal brain chemistry, which leads to a perplexing constellation of symptoms that may include on more of the following: severe sleepiness, vivid dream imagery upon falling asleep or waking up (hypnagogic hallucinations), waking up paralyzed (sleep paralysis), and sudden onset of temporary muscle weakness (cataplexy). The most common symptom is falling asleep at inappropriate times and places. Narcolepsy most often comes in the mid-teenage years and affects women and men equally.
* Insomnia – Failure to get an entire night’s sleep on most nights. It affects one out of ten Americans, which is about 40 million. Insomnia can take the form of being unable to fall asleep when you first go to bed or waking during the night and being unable to go back to sleep. While insomnia can be very frustrating, it is hardly dangerous and is usually only a temporary annoyance. Chronic insomnia is often a symptom of a serious underlying medical disorder. Fifty percent of insomnia cases can be attributed to depression and psychological disorders, such as anxiety, stress, or grief.
* Restless Legs Syndrome – The onset of an attack usually accompanies inactivity such as occurs on long drives, sitting fir an extended period, and in sleep. Women are afflicted more often than men because of a correlation with menses, pregnancy, and menopause. When restless legs occur during sleep, it awakens its victim, causing insomnia. Suffers are known as nightwalkers since they are aroused by their aching legs that they walk the floor night after night, an activity that tends to relieve the symptoms.
For each of us, every single day of our lives, the need for sleep is a powerful biologic force. Every twenty-four hours or so, we simply must lie down and rest for a period of time or we will be unable to continue to function. This regular requirement for sleep is so pressing, so demanding that, though it may be delayed or deferred, sleep cannot be denied completely. We all spend one-third of our lives asleep, it is a basic requirement of life. Sleep disorders mean poor sleep which limits the ability to function and to enjoy life.