Sleep Facts
The Challenger space shuttle disaster has been partially attributed to sleep-deprivation

What can go wrong?

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One third of the population has difficulty getting a good night’s sleep. Lack of sleep can significantly affect your mood, your performance at work, even your ability to drive, as well as having serious health and safety consequences.
 
There are over 70 clinically diagnosable sleep disorders but we’ll just look at the most common ones here. If you have trouble sleeping or you’re concerned about your sleep habits you should see your doctor. Many disorders are easily treated.


COMMON SLEEP DISORDERS


SNORING & SLEEP APNEA

About 60% of men and 40% of women snore, and while it occurs in all age groups, it’s more common as you get older.
 
Snoring has a wide range of causes, including having a blocked nose, sleeping on your back (because your tongue slides back and blocks the airway), nasal polyps, large tonsils and adenoids (especially in children), allergies, hay fever, smoking, obesity, alcohol and some medications.
 
Snoring is a social problem for many couples or families, with sleep quality diminished for both the snorer and their bed partner. Often one partner is forced to sleep in a separate room.
 
There are several treatments available for snoring. See your doctor if you are concerned.
 
About 10% of snorers suffer from a disorder called Sleep Apnoea, which is a more serious sleep disorder that can increase your risk of serious diseases such as heart attack and stroke.
 
If you usually snore loudly and have restless sleep you may have sleep apnea.  Sleep apnea means absence of breath and occurs when the airway from the mouth to the lungs collapse during sleeping, accompanied by pauses in breathing lasting up to a minute. Often these symptoms are not noticed by the person with sleep apnea, but by their partner. People suffering from sleep apnea often wake up with a headache, dry mouth, or feel sleepy during the day particularly during passive situations such as sitting quietly after lunch or at the cinema
 
There are potentially serious health consequences associated with sleep apnea, but it is treatable. You should see your doctor if you suspect you may be suffering from sleep apnea.
 
More info
Australian Sleep Association Snoring factsheet
Australian Sleep Association Sleep Apnea factsheet



SLEEP DEPRIVATION

Sleep deprivation is the most common sleep problem in developed countries.  It’s often self-induced due to social or lifestyle choices or can be caused by external forces such as working long hours, having babies and children that disrupt their parent's sleep, and shiftwork.
 
 
The consequences of lack of sleep can be severe and include excessive daytime sleepiness, headaches, declining mental function and reduced reaction times, fatigue and negative mood changes. Excessive daytime sleepiness is a particularly worrying consequence of sleep deprivation as it may cause motor vehicle accidents and accidents in the workplace and at home
 
The best way to manage sleep deprivation is to give yourself the chance to sleep. While individuals tend to have variable sleep requirements, adults, as a rule, require 6.5 to 8.5 hours of sleep per day to maintain good health, with about 7 hours being the optimum.  Older adults still need the same amount, but their sleep tends to be more fragmented. Children require more sleep than adults. It always helps to have regular sleep and wake times, and sleep time should be at night wherever possible.

 

INSOMNIA.

We all suffer from occasional ‘bad’ nights but if wakefulness is persistent, it may be insomnia.
 
Insomnia sufferers may experience difficulties with going to sleep, staying asleep or waking too early. These symptoms need to occur at least 3 times per week for be present 1 month for a diagnosis of insomnia
 
The causes are wide ranging and include stress or anxiety, some medications and medical conditions (such as chronic pain or respiratory problems) and possibly drinking and eating the wrong things close to bedtime,. Thinking and worrying in bed can also keep you awake.
 
Ultimately, even when these factors are removed, insomnia may become a self fulfilling prophecy, where the worry about getting to sleep is enough to perpetuate the condition. Insomnia is associated with obesity, poor immune function, high blood pressure and diabetes, so if you suffer from insomnia, it’s worth seeking treatment from your doctor. One of the most successful treatments for insomnia is Cognitive Behaviour Therapy.
 
More info
ABC Health & Wellbeing Insomnia Factfile
ASA Insomnia factsheet
 
 

OTHER SLEEP DISORDERS

 

PARASOMNIAS

Many of the more weird behaviours associated with sleep, such as sleep walking, sleep talking, night eating and acting out dreams are known as parasomnias. At the most extreme end, people may even clean, cook or drive while asleep. It can become a problem if it puts you at risk or causes binge eating. Treatments are available so talk to your doctor if you think you might be experiencing parasomnias.
 
We don’t currently know how widespread parasomnias are in the Australian population. One of the aims of the Big Sleep Survey 2010 is to find this out!

More info
ABC Health & Wellbeing - Sleepwalking
 

NARCOLEPSY

Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder where the brain is unable to regulate sleep-wake cycles normally. Sufferers may experience fleeting urges to sleep during the day, and may involuntarily fall asleep.
 
When waking up or falling asleep, some people with narcolepsy may find themselves unable to move. Narcoleptic sleep episodes can occur at any time, and thus frequently prove profoundly disabling. Treatment is available from your doctor.

More info 
ASA Narcolepsy factsheet
 

RESTLESS LEG SYNDROME

Another common sleep disorder is restless legs syndrome. This is a strong, nearly irresistible urge to move your legs and arms in order to ease uncomfortable or odd sensations. These symptoms tend to get worse in the evening.
 
Restless leg syndrome affects both men and women, but it’s more common and severe in older people.  The cause is not known, but certain factors may be associated with restless leg syndrome, such as anaemia or pregnancy.
 
More info
ABC Health & Wellbeing - Restless legs
ASA Restless Leg Syndrome factsheet
 

NIGHT TERRORS OR NIGHTMARES

Nightmares are frightening dreams that can wake the sleeper from REM or dream sleep. Usually, the sleeper remembers the bad dream. 
 
Even more dramatic, are night terrors where loud, blood-curdling screams are associated with panic and running around the bedroom and even out of the house. Night terrors occur during slow wave sleep (deep sleep) and are most often found in children under the age of 7.  It's important not to wake the child but gently guide them back to bed and talk to them in a soothing voice. If you’re concerned about night terrors or nightmares, see your doctor for advice about what treatments are available.
 

CONFUSIONAL AROUSAL

Confusional arousal occurs when a sleeper is confused during sleep or waking. It's a rare sleep disorder and is most common in children, who may thrash about and cry inconsolably. Treatment options are available from your doctor if you are concerned.
 

MORE INFO ON SLEEP DISORDERS

The Australian Sleep Association
ABC Health & Wellbeing - Sleep Library
ABC Science - Sleep Disorders