If you have lost count of how many times you have suffered from sleepless nights, interrupted sleep, or poor-quality sleep, then you are certainly not alone. According to the American Sleep Association:
- Between 50 and 70 million adults in the U.S. have one or more sleep disorders.
- 9% of adults reported unintentionally falling asleep during the day at least once time in the past month.
- 7% of adults reported falling asleep at the wheel at least once in the last month. Fatigued driving kills around 1,500 people each year and injures an additional 40,000.
Some of the common symptoms of sleep disorders include: lack of energy, difficulty concentrating, memory loss and forgetfulness, diminished productivity and performance at school or work, depression, lack of energy, mood disturbances (e.g. irritability, anger, impulsive actions, etc.), irregular breathing, fatigued driving, and an overall decreased quality of life.
According to Dr. Avi Weisfogel, the founder and owner of the International Academy of Sleep (IAOS), there are over 70 recognized forms of sleep disorders, and among the most common are sleep apnea, insomnia and restless leg syndrome, respectively.
About 10% of adults in the U.S. suffer from chronic insomnia, which is a debilitating condition that is characterized by: difficulty falling asleep at night, frequently waking up in the middle of the night and having problems falling back asleep, and routinely waking up significantly earlier than desired or planned. Generally, chronic insomnia refers to situations where insomnia continues for at least three weeks, and acute insomnia refers to shorter durations. Dr. Avi Weisfogel notes that many people fluctuate between bouts of acute and chronic insomnia. He also adds that the condition may temporarily alleviate for weeks or months at a stretch before returning.
Sleep apnea (formally referred to as obstructive sleep apnea or OSA) affects about 20 million people in the U.S. However, Dr. Avi Weisfogel notes that as many as 90% of these people are living with undiagnosed and therefore untreated sleep apnea, either because they do not know that they have this debilitating and potentially fatal condition, or they do not realize that it is a serious problem that needs to be assessed by a healthcare professional.
Sleep apnea occurs when the soft tissues in the throat relax during sleep and block the upper respiratory system. A partial blockage typically causes snoring, while a full blockage causes an individual to stop breathing for several seconds during the night. This forced the brain to awaken and triggers violent gasping and hacking, in order to clear the airway and allow oxygen to get into the lungs.
As noted above, many people who undergo this process on a regular basis — and it can happen several times a night — are unaware that it is happening. As such, upon awakening they typically feel exhausted and irritable, but do not know why (or they attribute it to the wrong root cause, such as something they ate or an argument, they had the night before). Furthermore, the burden placed on the respiratory system puts a strain on the heart, which can lead to heart attack, heart arrhythmia, heart failure, and other serious and potentially fatal cardiological problems.
Restless Leg Syndrome
Restless leg syndrome (RLS) is a common neurological disorder that compels people to constantly move their legs, feet, and possibly other body parts during sleep. The compulsion is triggered by sensations such as itching, aching, burning, throbbing and pulling. Understandably, the constant need to shift position wreaks havoc on sleep quality. As with sleep apnea, many people who suffer from restless leg syndrome are unaware that they have a clinical condition for which treatment and medications are available. Dietary and lifestyle changes may also alleviate or eliminate symptoms.
If you know or believe that you are suffering from one of these or any other sleep disorders, then speak with your primary care physician. A growing number of dentists are also offering their patients sleep apnea assessments. Adds Dr. Avi Weisfogel: it is a mistake for people to assume that sleep disorders correct themselves over time, or that poor quality sleep is something that they must learn to live with and accept. Neither of these are true. The problem is serious, and help is available.