Everyone has a "bad night" once in a while. Dogs
barking, the wind howling, or overeating may make it hard to sleep. It is
estimated that 35% of adults have occasional sleep problems, which can have
The medical term for trouble falling
asleep or staying asleep is insomnia. Insomnia can include:
- Trouble getting to sleep (taking more than
45 minutes to fall asleep).
- Frequent awakenings with inability to
fall back to sleep.
- Early morning awakening.
very tired after a night of sleep.
But insomnia usually is not a problem unless it makes you
feel tired during the day. If you are less sleepy at night or wake up early but
still feel rested and alert, there usually is little need to worry.
Fortunately, home treatment measures successfully relieve occasional
Occasional insomnia may be caused by noise, extreme
jet lag, changes in your sleep environment, or a change in your sleep
pattern, such as shift work. Insomnia may also be caused by temporary or
situational life stresses, such as a traumatic event or an impending deadline.
Your insomnia is likely to disappear when the cause of your sleep problem goes
- Short-term insomnia may last from a few nights
to a few weeks and be caused by worry over a
stressful situation or by jet lag.
Long-term insomnia, which may last months or even years, may be caused by:
- Advancing age. Insomnia occurs more
frequently in adults older than age 60.
- Mental health problems,
- Medicines. Many
prescription and nonprescription medicines can cause sleep
- Chronic pain, which often develops
after a major injury or illness, such as shingles or back problems, or after a
limb has been amputated (phantom limb pain).
- Other problems that interrupt your sleep, such as
coronary artery disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), or menopause.
- Alcohol and illegal drug use or
- Cigarettes and other tobacco use.
or eating foods that contain caffeine, such as coffee, tea, chocolate, or soft
drinks (for example, Coke, Pepsi, or Mountain Dew).
Sleep apnea is one of several
sleep disorders. Sleep apnea refers to repeated episodes of not breathing
during sleep for at least 10 seconds (apneic episodes). It usually is caused by
a blockage in the nose, mouth, or throat (upper airways ). When airflow through
the nose and mouth is blocked, breathing may stop for 10 seconds or longer.
People who have sleep apnea usually snore loudly and are very tired during the
day. It can affect children and adults.
Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder that has
distinct symptoms, including:
- Sudden sleep attacks, which may occur during
any type of activity at any time of day. You may fall asleep while engaged in
an activity such as eating dinner, driving the car, or carrying on a
conversation. These sleep attacks can occur several times a day and may last
from a few minutes to several hours.
- Sudden, brief periods of
muscle weakness while you are awake (cataplexy). This weakness may affect
specific muscle groups or may affect the entire body. Cataplexy is often
brought on by strong emotional reactions, such as laughing or
- Hallucinations just before a sleep
- Brief loss of the ability to move when you are falling
asleep or just waking up (sleep paralysis).
Parasomnias are undesirable physical
activities that occur during sleep involving skeletal muscle activity,
nervous system changes, or both. Night terrors and
sleepwalking are two types of parasomnias. Sleep can be hard for people
who experience parasomnias. While "asleep," a person with parasomnia may walk,
scream, rearrange furniture, eat odd foods, or pick up a weapon.
Parasomnia can cause odd, distressing, and sometimes dangerous nighttime
activities. These disorders have medically explainable causes and usually are
Restless legs syndrome
Restless legs syndrome (RLS)
is a condition that produces an intense feeling of discomfort, aching, or
twitching deep inside the legs. Jerking movements may affect the toes, ankles,
knees, and hips. Moving the legs or walking around usually relieves the
discomfort for a short time.
The exact cause of restless legs
syndrome is not known. The symptoms of restless legs syndrome most often occur
while a person is asleep or is trying to fall asleep. The twitching or jerking
leg movements may wake the person up, causing insomnia, unrestful sleep, and
When a sleep problem or lack of time keeps you from
getting a good night's sleep,
excessive daytime sleepiness may occur. While almost
everyone experiences daytime sleepiness from time to time, it can have serious
consequences such as motor vehicle accidents, poor work or school performance,
and work-related accidents.
Sleep problems may be a symptom of a
medical or mental health problem. It is important to consider whether a medical
or mental health problem is causing you to sleep poorly. Treating a long-term
sleep problem without looking for the cause may hide the real reason for your
Check your symptoms to decide if and
when you should see a doctor.