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What's Causing Your Sleepiness?

Are you skimping on sleep, or could you have a sleep disorder?

What's Wrong With Poor Sleep? continued...

If you’re getting enough shut-eye but still feel sleepy all the time, you could have a sleep disorder. Sleep disorders disrupt a person's ability to fall asleep or stay asleep, or they may cause odd behaviors during sleep, such as sleepwalking. Some sleep disorders even prompt "sleep attacks," in which people fall asleep uncontrollably during the day.

When new patients visit his sleep clinic, Davila tries to find out whether they're having trouble with quantity or quality of sleep.

"The first question sleep doctors ask ... is 'Are they getting enough sleep? Are they filling up their sleep tank at night or not?' That's a big question because we think a lot of people are not. They're sleep-deprived, either partially or intermittently or chronically," he says. Many times, Davila says, making sure they get enough sleep reduces excessive sleepiness.

But if it’s not a “sleep quantity” problem, says Davila, “then we start thinking about quality of sleep. Could there be a sleep disorder?"

Watch for These Symptoms of a Sleep Problem

Sleep experts recommend that you talk to your doctor if you have any of these signs of sleep disorders:

  • Routinely taking more than 30 minutes to fall asleep 
  • Regularly waking up many times and having trouble falling asleep again 
  • Frequent sleepiness during the day, frequent naps, or falling asleep unintentionally or at inappropriate times during the day 
  • Loud snoring, gasping, snorting, choking sounds or stopping breathing for short periods during sleep--problems that are usually reported by your spouse or partner 
  • Creeping, tingling or crawling feelings in your legs or arms, especially as you're falling asleep 
  • Legs or arms jerk often during sleep, often reported by your spouse or partner 
  • Waking up with headaches 
  • Vivid, dream-like experiences while falling asleep or dozing 
  • Unusual behaviors during sleep, such as sleepwalking 
  • Episodes of sudden muscle weakness when you're angry, fearful or laughing
  • Feeling unable to move your body when you first wake up

Major Sleep Disorders

Many sleep disorders are rare. For example, in 15 years of practice, Davila has treated only a few cases of recurrent hypersomnia, in which people have periods of extreme sleepiness that come and go. During an attack, a person may sleep up to 16-18 hours, rousing only to eat or use the bathroom. Episodes can last a few days or many weeks. 

But a few sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea or restless legs syndrome, are common. Major sleep disorders include:

Insomnia: Insomnia may be a symptom of a sleep disorder, so people with this complaint may need a thorough evaluation, Shives says. But it can also be a sleep disorder by itself. Insomnia makes it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep. Sleep quality may be poor, leaving people feeling unrefreshed when they awake.

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