Q: My friend says I'm ruining my health by pulling all-nighters, but I say it's no big deal. Who's right?
A: You're kidding, right? People do vary slightly in their sleep needs, but the idea that a person can exist on three or four -- or no -- hours of sleep a night is FALSE. In fact, you're in the crowd of college students who are chronically sleep-deprived -- which research links to a variety of health problems.
"Lack of sleep impairs your ability to learn, remember, and process new facts,"...
Along with having to drag yourself through the day, you may also have:
Loss of appetite
Trouble with thinking or memory
Feelings of irritability or anxiety
About 20% of adults have sleepiness severe enough to affect their regular activities.
Conditions That Can Cause Sleepiness
Not getting enough sleep -- sometimes by choice -- is the most common cause of excessive sleepiness. Working at night and sleeping during the day is another. Other causes include drug, alcohol, or cigarette use, lack of physical activity, obesity, and the use of certain medications.
But nodding off when you want or need to be awake may also be caused by an underlying condition. Depression or a sleep disorder -- such as restless legs syndrome, sleep apnea, or narcolepsy -- are common causes of problem sleepiness.
Restless Legs Syndrome and Sleepiness
Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a disorder characterized by unpleasant sensations in the legs and a strong urge to move them. RLS may also cause jerky leg movements every 20 to 30 seconds throughout the night. Sometimes RLS can affect other parts of the body, too.
RLS symptoms may occur or get worse while you’re at rest or sleeping. Because the symptoms are usually worse at night, they can greatly interrupt your sleep and lead to sleepiness when you need to be awake. RLS can be so bad, it is mistaken for insomnia.
Treatment for Restless Legs Syndrome
Moving your legs lessens RLS symptoms. These steps may also be enough to relieve symptoms of RLS:
Take iron or vitamin B12 or folate supplements if your doctor says your levels are low and recommends them.
Talk to your doctor about whether a medication or herbal remedy that you’re taking may be making symptoms worse. These could include medication that treats high blood pressure, nausea, colds, allergies, heart conditions, or depression.
Stay away from alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine.
Maintain a healthy diet, exercise regularly, and try relaxation techniques such as hot baths and massage.
If these steps are not enough, several types of medication are useful for treating the symptoms of restless legs syndrome or for inducing deep sleep. They include:
Anti-seizure drugs such as carbamazepine, gabapentin, and valproate. Horizant (gabapentin enazcarbil) is a newer drug that is used in restless legs syndrome treatment. It was not developed as a seizure medicine.
Anti-parkinsonian drugs such as levodopa/carbidopa, pergolide, pramipexole, and ropinirole
Benzodiazepines such as clonazepam, diazepam, lorazepam, and temazepam
Opiates such as codeine, methadone, and oxycodone for severe RLS
Because these drugs have not been compared thoroughly in studies, the best approach is to start with one and see how it works. If it’s ineffective, work with your doctor to find an alternative. In severe cases, a combination of drugs may work best.