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What's Causing Your Sleepiness?

Are you skimping on sleep, or could you have a sleep disorder?
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What's Wrong With Poor Sleep?

Most adults need seven to eight hours of sleep per night, although some people need more or less sleep time to be adequately rested.

Sleep woes -- not getting enough sleep or poor quality of sleep -- can have serious consequences. "Not having enough good sleep is linked to the major health problems of our time: hypertension, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, weight gain, and dementia," Shives says.

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
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