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After a long day of work and play, we often can’t wait for bedtime. But for some, falling asleep can be elusive and stressful.  In fact, most people experience difficulty falling asleep at some point in their lives. National Sleep Awareness Week is an opportunity for us to stop and think about our sleep habits, realize how much they impact our well-being, and take a step towards improving them.

This year, National Sleep Awareness Week takes place March 2–9, 2014; one week before Americans lose an hour of sleep to daylight savings time

The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults get seven to nine hours of sleep per night; less may pose serious consequences to one’s health and safety. For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have found that people who reported sleeping six hours or less per night were significantly more likely to fall asleep while driving than those who reported sleeping seven to nine hours nightly.

The amount of sleep needed depends on the individual; but it is generally considered that the older you get, the less sleep you require.

graph showing how much sleep is required according to your age

Common Sleep Disorders

 1.       Insomnia

People with insomnia have trouble falling or staying asleep for a number of reasons – some of which can be controlled and others that can’t. For example, if you are excited about a new activity or worrying over bills, you may have trouble sleeping. Insomnia may also be a side effect of a medication or an illness. Symptoms of insomnia include:

  • Taking a long time to fall asleep;
  • Waking up many times in the night;
  • Waking up early and being  unable to get back to sleep;
  • Waking up tired; or,
  • Feeling very sleepy during the day.

If you think you have insomnia, talk to your health care provider.

  • 2.       Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea causes short pauses in breathing while sleeping. These pauses may happen many times during the night and if the condition is not treated, sleep apnea can lead to other problems such as high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke. Sleep apnea can only be diagnosed through a sleep study in a laboratory or at home.

  • 3.       Restless Leg Syndrome

People with restless legs syndrome (RLS) feel like there is tingling, crawling, or pins and needles in one or both of their legs and the sensations increase at night. Repositioning one’s legs or taking a walk can bring some temporary relief, but in many cases symptoms must be treated with medication. RLS is especially prevalent in older people and tends to run in families.

  • 4.       Narcolepsy

Narcolepsy is a chronic sleep disorder characterized by overwhelming daytime drowsiness and sudden attacks of sleep. People with narcolepsy regularly find it difficult to stay awake for long periods of time, regardless of the circumstances or time of day. Narcolepsy is a dangerous disease because an onset of excessive sleepiness or a sleep attack may occur at any time – even while eating, walking, or driving. There is no cure for narcolepsy. However, consulting a doctor, making lifestyle changes, and taking medications can help manage the symptoms.

If sleeping is a problem for you, a family member, or a friend, the Department of Public Health (DPH) has information on improving your sleep pattern and the Department of Early Education and Care (EEC) has advice for parents on how to keep sleep time safe for your baby. If sleep problems continue to be a regular occurrence and interfere with your daily life, seek medical advice.

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