Sleep woes have long been the muse of crooners and scribes. There's nothing like lack of slumber or too much of it to demonstrate emotional turmoil.
Today, we know that sleep troubles hail from more than just emotional hang-ups. There are approximately 80 types of known sleep disorders, with causes ranging from structural airway problems, to chemical imbalances, to lifestyle factors.
Researchers know more about sleep than ever before.
"Our knowledge base about sleep problems, sleep disorders, and treatments has expanded considerably," says Carl E. Hunt, MD, director of the National Center on Sleep Disorders Research, a branch of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). "The number of research results published in medical journals, and the number of publications related to sleep problems have been increasing dramatically year by year."
When the NIH began funding sleep-related studies a decade ago, $60 million was earmarked for research. In 2005, the NIH has directed more than $200 million toward sleep-related investigation.
Yet sleep medicine is still a young discipline. The American Medical Association just began recognizing it as a medical subspecialty this year.
Also, despite growing public awareness of sleep disorders, there are still many people who don't see sleep problems as potential medical conditions.
"They think (sleep problems) might be a character flaw or something you just put up with," says Lawrence Epstein, MD, president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM). "The basic thing to know is that there's help out there. There are trained specialists who understand the disorders, and there are very effective treatments."
WebMD asked sleep experts how the average person could navigate the burgeoning frontier of sleep medicine and get help.
The Sleep Medicine Frontier
Help can't come soon enough. According to the AASM, nearly half of Americans have trouble snoozing at some point in their life. The statistic includes problems that may not necessarily be sleep disorders, such as short-term insomnia and sleep deprivation.
Sleep loss can adversely affect concentration, memory, learning, and logical reasoning. The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) places the cost of daytime sleepiness and sleep disorders to the national economy at an estimated $100 billion annually.