What's Causing Your Sleepiness?
Are you skimping on sleep, or could you have a sleep disorder?
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.
Sleep apnea: This sleep disorder causes loud snoring, gasping,
choking, pauses in breathing, and sudden awakenings. The person repeatedly
stops breathing long enough to interfere with sleep; these pauses also
temporarily decrease a person's oxygen supply. During the day, people with
sleep apnea often feel very sleepy. Sleep apnea can raise the risk of high
blood pressure, stroke, and heart attack.
Restless legs syndrome (RLS): RLS causes irresistible urges to move
the legs while a person is lying down. The person may also feel creeping,
crawling, burning, or painful sensations in the legs. In a related sleep
disorder called "periodic limb movement disorder," repetitive jerking movements
or twitching of the legs or arms during slumber lead to fragmented,
Parasomnias: Parasomnias, or abnormal behaviors during sleep, include
sleepwalking, sleep-talking, head-banging, and night terrors that cause people
to sit up, flail, and scream. In one type of parasomnia called "rapid eye
movement behavior disorder," people may kick, punch, or wave their arms
unintentionally (usually in response to a dream) while they're in REM sleep.
This sleep disorder usually afflicts older men, according to Shives. It has
also been linked to an increased risk of Parkinson's disease, she adds.
Narcolepsy: Narcolepsy's main symptoms are excessive sleepiness
during the day or recurring "sleep attacks" that cause people to fall asleep
uncontrollably during normal waking hours. Some people also have sudden spells
of muscle weakness following emotional excitement and may fall to the ground.
Some people with narcolepsy experience sleep paralysis, where they can't move
when falling asleep or just waking up. Other symptoms include vivid dreams or
hallucinations while falling asleep or waking up.