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Sleep Problems: At a Glance

By The Manual's Editorial Staff, ,

Sleep is necessary for survival and good health, but why sleep is needed and exactly how it benefits people are not fully understood. Individual requirements for sleep vary widely, usually from 6 to 10 hours every day.

For a full discussion, see Overview of Sleep.

Did You Know...

  • No one knows exactly why people need to sleep.

  • Almost half of people have insomnia at one time or another.

There are several types of insomnia:

  • Difficulty falling asleep (sleep onset insomnia): Commonly, people have difficulty falling asleep when they cannot let their mind relax and they continue to think and worry. Sometimes the body is not ready for sleep at what is considered a usual time for sleep. That is, the body's internal clock is out of sync with the earth's cycle of light and dark—a type of circadian rhythm sleep disorder. This problem is common among adolescents and young adults.

  • Difficulty staying asleep (sleep maintenance insomnia): Older people are more likely to have difficulty staying asleep than are younger people. People with this type of insomnia fall asleep normally but wake up several hours later and cannot fall asleep again easily. Sometimes they drift in and out of a restless, unsatisfactory sleep.

  • Early morning awakening: This type may be a sign of depression in people of any age.

Insomnia can lead to trouble staying awake, as can some disorders (such as narcolepsy).

Other disorders can interfere with getting a good night's sleep. For example, some people move their limbs involuntarily during sleep or when they lie down. Others have nightmares or night terrors or sleepwalk (called parasomnias).

How Is Insomnia Treated?

Treatment depends on the cause and severity. If insomnia results from another disorder, that disorder is treated.

For mild insomnia, options include

Melatonin is sometimes used to treat insomnia. Use of melatonin to treat sleep problems is controversial. It appears to be safe for short-term use (up to a few weeks), but the effects of using it for a long time are unknown. Also, melatonin products are unregulated, and thus purity and content cannot be confirmed.

The effects of other medicinal herbs and dietary supplements, such as kava and valerian, are not well-understood.

Do You Snore ?

About 57% of men and 40% of women snore. A few people snore quietly, but snoring is usually noticeable and is sometimes loud enough to be heard in another room. Snoring is distressing only to other people, typically a bed partner or roommate trying to sleep. People seldom know that they snore unless others tell them.

Snoring is often a symptom of sleep-disordered breathing, such as obstructive sleep apnea.

Sleep and Children

Children may have problems sleeping. They may have nightmares or night terrors, walk in their sleep, or wake up in the middle of the night. They may resist going to bed. These problems are often temporary and often do not need treatment.

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