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Home > Patient & Family Resources > Health Library > Sleep Problems, Age 12 and Older
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Everyone has a "bad night" once in a while. Dogs barking, the wind howling, or overeating may make it hard to sleep. It is estimated that 35% of adults have occasional sleep problems, which can have many causes.
The medical term for trouble falling asleep or staying asleep is insomnia. Insomnia can include:
But insomnia usually is not a problem unless it makes you feel tired during the day. If you are less sleepy at night or wake up early but still feel rested and alert, there usually is little need to worry. Fortunately, home treatment measures successfully relieve occasional insomnia.
Occasional insomnia may be caused by noise, extreme temperatures, jet lag, changes in your sleep environment, or a change in your sleep pattern, such as shift work. Insomnia may also be caused by temporary or situational life stresses, such as a traumatic event or an impending deadline. Your insomnia is likely to disappear when the cause of your sleep problem goes away.
Sleep apnea is one of several sleep disorders. Sleep apnea refers to repeated episodes of not breathing during sleep for at least 10 seconds (apneic episodes). It usually is caused by a blockage in the nose, mouth, or throat (upper airways). When airflow through the nose and mouth is blocked, breathing may stop for 10 seconds or longer. People who have sleep apnea usually snore loudly and are very tired during the day. It can affect children and adults.
Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder that has distinct symptoms, including:
Parasomnias are undesirable physical activities that occur during sleep involving skeletal muscle activity, nervous system changes, or both. Night terrors and sleepwalking are two types of parasomnias. Sleep can be hard for people who experience parasomnias. While "asleep," a person with parasomnia may walk, scream, rearrange furniture, eat odd foods, or pick up a weapon.
Parasomnia can cause odd, distressing, and sometimes dangerous nighttime activities. These disorders have medically explainable causes and usually are treatable.
Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a condition that produces an intense feeling of discomfort, aching, or twitching deep inside the legs. Jerking movements may affect the toes, ankles, knees, and hips. Moving the legs or walking around usually relieves the discomfort for a short time.
The exact cause of restless legs syndrome is not known. The symptoms of restless legs syndrome most often occur while a person is asleep or is trying to fall asleep. The twitching or jerking leg movements may wake the person up, causing insomnia, unrestful sleep, and daytime sleepiness.
When a sleep problem or lack of time keeps you from getting a good night's sleep, excessive daytime sleepiness may occur. While almost everyone experiences daytime sleepiness from time to time, it can have serious consequences such as motor vehicle accidents, poor work or school performance, and work-related accidents.
Sleep problems may be a symptom of a medical or mental health problem. It is important to consider whether a medical or mental health problem is causing you to sleep poorly. Treating a long-term sleep problem without looking for the cause may hide the real reason for your poor sleep.
Check your symptoms to decide if and when you should see a doctor.
Health Tools help you make wise health decisions or take action to improve your health.
Many things can affect how your body responds to a symptom and what kind of care you may need. These include:
You have answered all the questions. Based on your answers, you may be able to take care of this problem at home.
Many prescription and nonprescription medicines can cause sleep problems. A few examples are:
Symptoms of sleep apnea may include:
There are many things you can do at home for sleep problems. For example:
Many illnesses can cause sleep problems. A few examples are:
The risk of a suicide attempt is highest if:
Based on your answers, you may need care soon. The problem probably will not get better without medical care.
Based on your answers, the problem may not improve without medical care.
Based on your answers, you need emergency care.
Call 911 or other emergency services now.
Sometimes people don't want to call 911. They may think that their symptoms aren't serious or that they can just get someone else to drive them. Or they might be concerned about the cost. But based on your answers, the safest and quickest way for you to get the care you need is to call 911 for medical transport to the hospital.
Based on your answers, you may need care right away. The problem is likely to get worse without medical care.
How much sleep a person needs varies from person to person. The number of hours you sleep is not as important as how you feel when you wake up. If you do not feel refreshed, you probably need more sleep.
Feeling tired during the daytime is another sign you are not getting enough sleep. Talk to a doctor if you are sleepy during the day and this gets in the way of the normal things you do. It's especially important that you do not drive or use machinery while you are drowsy.
The average total nightly sleep time is 7½ to 8 hours. Healthy adults can require anywhere from 4 to 10 hours of sleep. Many times, simple home treatment can help you get the sleep you need.
If your sleep problem does not require a visit to your doctor, establish a routine to promote good sleep habits:
When you can't get to sleep, try the following:
Avoid activities that might keep you from a good night's sleep:
Try a nonprescription medicine, such as Nytol, Sleep-Eze, or Sominex. Use nonprescription medicines wisely since they can cause daytime confusion, memory loss, and dizziness. Continued use of sleeping pills may actually increase your sleeplessness (rebound insomnia). If you take any prescription medicines, talk with your doctor before trying any nonprescription sleep medicines.
Melatonin is a popular herbal remedy for sleep problems. Experts disagree about its usefulness for sleep problems. Before using any treatment, it is important to consider the risks and benefits of the treatment. For more information, see the topic Melatonin.
If you have several nights of trouble sleeping, review all of your prescription and nonprescription medicines with your doctor or pharmacist to determine whether the medicines you take could be the cause of your sleep problem.
You may have sleep problems after traveling (jet lag), especially if you change time zones.
Be sure to talk to your doctor if your sleep problems get worse, you feel very tired, or have a hard time functioning during the day. Also, let your doctor know if your symptoms become more severe or happen more often.
Many sleep problems can be prevented. Avoid activities that might keep you from a good night's sleep.
You may be able to prevent sleep problems caused by jet lag by staying hydrated with water and avoiding caffeine, such as coffee.
Children also need plenty of sleep to grow and develop. It's important to help your child and yourself to sleep well with a good bedtime routine.
To prepare for your appointment, see the topic Making the Most of Your Appointment.
You can help your doctor diagnose and treat your condition by being prepared to answer the following questions:
Before visiting your doctor, keep a sleep diary of your sleep patterns for at least 2 weeks.
Current as of: June 26, 2019
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency MedicineKathleen Romito MD - Family MedicineAdam Husney MD - Family MedicineDavid Messenger MD
Current as of: June 26, 2019
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine & Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & David Messenger MD
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