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    Understanding Sleep Problems -- The Basics

    During normal sleep, you cycle through REM and four stages of non-REM (NREM) sleep numerous times a night. Stage 1 of NREM sleep is the lightest, while stage 4 is the deepest. 

    When you're repeatedly interrupted and can't cycle normally through these types and stages of sleep, you may feel tired, fatigued, and have trouble concentrating and paying attention while you're awake. Sleepiness puts you at greater risk for car wrecks and other accidents.

    Recommended Related to Sleep Disorders

    Do Seniors Need Less Sleep?

    When it comes to myths about sleep, this one refuses to nod off -- and stay asleep. Contrary to popular opinion, older people don't need less sleep than the average person. In fact, adults require about the same amount of sleep from their 20s into old age, although the number of hours per night varies from person to person. But many older adults get much less sleep than they need, for a variety of reasons. Take Harry Gaertner, a 68-year-old retiree from Richardson, Texas. He remembers first being...

    Read the Do Seniors Need Less Sleep? article > >

    What Are Sleep Disorders?

    Circadian Rhythm Disorders

    Typically, people sleep at night -- thanks not only to the conventions of the 9-to-5 workday, but also to the close interaction between our natural sleep and alertness rhythms, which are driven by an internal "clock."

    This clock is a small part of the brain called the suprachiasmatic nucleus of the hypothalamus. It sits just above the nerves leaving the back of our eyes. Light and exercise "reset" the clock and can move it forward or backward. Abnormalities related to this clock are called circadian rhythm disorders ("circa" means "about," and "dies" means "day").

    Circadian rhythm disorders include jet lag, adjustments to shift work, delayed sleep phase syndrome (you fall asleep and wake up too late), and advanced sleep phase syndrome (you fall asleep and wake up too early).

    Insomnia

    People who have insomnia don't feel as if they get enough sleep at night. They may have trouble falling asleep or may wake up frequently during the night or early in the morning. Insomnia is a problem if it affects your daytime activities. Insomnia has many possible causes, including stress, anxiety, depression, poor sleep habits, circadian rhythm disorders (such as jet lag), and taking certain medications.

    Snoring

    Many adults snore. The noise is produced when the air you inhale rattles over the relaxed tissues of the throat. Snoring can be a problem simply because of the noise it causes. It may also be a marker of a more serious sleep problem called sleep apnea.

    Sleep Apnea

    Sleep apnea occurs when the upper airway becomes completely or partially blocked, interrupting regular breathing for short periods of time -- which then wakes you up. It can cause severe daytime sleepiness. If left untreated, severe sleep apnea may be associated with high blood pressure and the risk of stroke and heart attack.

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