Sleep disorders are a serious problem among Americans. Drowsiness from sleep problems hampers enjoyment of waking hours, reduces work productivity, and can even cause injury or death. Below, we’ll break down some of the most common sleep problems and examine these disorders in depth.
Most Common Sleep Problems in the US
A plethora of problems plague nearly 70 million of American sleepers every night. However, the majority of those who suffer from sleep disorders experience one (or more) of five main problems.
It’s happened to everyone at some point. You toss and turn in bed, unable to fall asleep. Nothing helps – not even counting sheep. Even once you manage to pass out, you keep waking up over and over until the first rays of the sun begin to spill in through your bedroom window. The culprit: Insomnia.
Statistically, Insomnia is the most common sleep disorder among Americans. About 30 percent of adults experience Insomnia at some point during their lives. A smaller number – about 10 percent of adults – suffer from chronic Insomnia, or Insomnia that happens twice a week for three months or more.
Sleep Apnea is another common sleep condition that affects 22 million Americans (about one in 15 people). What’s worse, nearly 80 percent of Sleep Apnea cases go undiagnosed by doctors.
Sleep Apnea causes a sleeper’s airway to start and stop irregularly throughout the night. This can result either from throat muscles relaxing, scrambled brain signals, or a combination of the two. The condition is characterized by several symptoms:
- Excessive snoring
- Waking up with dry mouth or sore throat
- Periods where the patient stops breathing
- May cause Insomnia
Sleep Apnea is a serious condition. Prolonged episodes of this sleep disorder can exacerbate type 2 diabetes, trigger heart problems, and increase blood pressure. In addition, this sleep disorder contributes significantly to daytime fatigue.
Men are more than twice as likely to suffer from Sleep Apnea than women. Excess weight can also be a factor, as well as advanced age.
About 200,000 Americans suffer from Narcolepsy, although the vast majority of cases go undiagnosed. As a result, the actual number of Narcolepsy patients in the US may be higher.
You can remember the symptoms of Narcolepsy with the acronym CHESS:
- Cataplexy – about three-quarters of Narcolepsy patients experience loss of muscle tone. Usually ends quickly but comes on suddenly.
- Hallucinations – up to 80 percent of patients experience dreamlike hallucinations, similar to sleep paralysis.
- Excessive Daytime Sleepiness – the main symptom of Narcolepsy affects 100 percent of those who suffer from the condition.
- Sleep Paralysis – between one-quarter and one-half of patients wake up at night unable to move and experiencing hallucinations.
- Sleep Disruption – up to 95 percent of patients wake up frequently throughout the night. That’s because Narcolepsy disrupts the full wake-sleep cycle, not just the part when patients are awake.
Scientists don’t know exactly what causes Narcolepsy. Autoimmune disorders, certain types of brain injuries, and family history all appear to play a role in the progression of this sleep condition.
Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS)
Restless Leg Syndrome, also known as RLS, is a relatively newly recognized phenomenon. Somewhere between 7 and 10 percent of American adults suffer from this condition, though again, it often goes undiagnosed.
Restless Leg Syndrome’s primary symptom is an uncontrollable urge for a patient to move their legs. This urge usually sets in when the patient is relaxing or at rest and may keep them from falling asleep. RLS only appears to affect patients during resting periods, hence its classification as a sleep disorder.
Patients may experience itching, crawling, or aching in their legs. Sometimes (although less commonly), the patient may feel the same impulses in other parts of their body. About 80 percent of patients also suffer from a symptom called Periodic Limb Movement in Sleep (PLMS), or uncontrollable twitching of arms and legs during the sleep cycle.
REM Sleep Behavior Disorder
Out of every sleep disorder we’ve listed here, REM Sleep Behavior Disorder is the rarest and most mysterious. Only about 1 percent of Americans suffer from this disease, which seems to affect those age 50 and older.
REM Sleep Behavior Disorder causes patients to “act out their dreams.” First, patients with the condition seem to experience highly vivid and realistic dreams in REM sleep. In addition, their bodies fail to “turn off” when they fall asleep.
Usually, the brain paralyzes the body during sleep. It does so to prevent us from damaging our bodies while we sleep. With REM Sleep Behavior Disorder, this doesn’t happen. Instead, a patient’s brain lets their arms and legs continue to move, acting out the movements they’re making in their dreamscapes.
There’s no “silver bullet” that will automatically solve a sleep disorder. However, combining better habits and medical treatments can help patients alleviate or even eliminate their symptoms.
Better Sleep Hygiene
“Sleep hygiene” is an umbrella term that refers to any variable surrounding your sleep practices. For example, the state of your bedroom, the regularity of your sleep schedule, pre-bedtime routines all fall under the category of sleep hygiene.
Improving sleep hygiene is one basic way to alleviate sleep problems. You can do that by:
- Support circadian rhythm – go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning.
- Manage screen time – refrain from using devices for at least 30 minutes before bedtime.
- Unwind before bedtime – participate in relaxing activities like reading or listening to music and dim your lights to promote melatonin production.
Improving sleep hygiene is one of the easiest and most effective ways to treat many sleep disorders like Insomnia.
A CPAP machine presents a solution to several sleep problems. A CPAP (short for “continuous positive airway pressure”) machine helps sleepers breathe normally at night, culminating in a better night’s rest. Doctors often prescribe them to Sleep Apnea patients, and research has proven their effectiveness when patients use them as directed.
CPAP machines work by pumping gently pressurized air into a patient’s airways while they sleep. This continuous pressure keeps the patient’s airways opened, eliminating snoring and the effects of Sleep Apnea.
These machines consist of several components including:
- Mask – a padded plastic mask that attaches to the patient’s head with adjustable straps.
- Pump – a mechanical motor that applies continuous, gentle airflow to the mask.
- Tubing – plastic connection that may include elbow joints and flexible tubing.
If you’re suffering from sleep problems and think a CPAP machine may help, talk to your doctor. They’ll assess your condition and determine whether or not a CPAP machine is suitable for your situation.