Not getting enough sleep is quickly becoming a common problem among people who lead fast and busy lives. Trouble sleeping is also a typical condition among the elderly. However, being young is not a guarantee that one will be free from suffering from sleep disorders. Almost everyone experiences sleepless nights sometimes. But not too many people realize the seriousness of not getting enough quality sleep. According to research, as many as 25% of Americans report occasional sleep problems.
Recent surveys show that insomnia has become a chronic problem in 10% of the entire US population. The cumulative impact of sleeplessness on a population has an impact on personal health as well as productivity at work. Lack of restful sleep interferes with a person’s ability to perform daily tasks and responsibilities.
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In addition to feeling tired, people who lack sleep also have difficulty concentrating and tend to be irritable. Imagine having these feelings or low levels of physical strength while driving on a busy highway or in the middle of an important business meeting. The results can be disastrous to one’s career or even life threatening. On the other hand, people who get adequate, continuous quality sleep are better able to perform at work or other activities the next day.
But how much sleep do we really need?
Sleep needs vary throughout the life cycle. Newborns and infants need a lot of sleep and need several periods of sleep over a 24-hour period. Naps are important for them as well as for toddlers who may need naps up to the age of 5. As children enter adolescence, their sleep patterns shift to the next sleep-wake cycle, but they still need about 9 hours of sleep.
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Throughout adulthood, even as a person gets older, they still need 7-9 hours of sleep. Sleep patterns may change, but sleep needs remain the same. Most adults do best by getting about 8 hours of sleep each night until age 60, after which 6 hours may be sufficient. Although older people need less sleep, nearly half of people over the age of 60 experience some degree of insomnia.
Insomnia is not a disorder, it is a symptom and not a stand-alone diagnosis. In simple terms, insomnia is difficulty initiating or maintaining sleep, or both. This is the term used to denote any and all stages and types of sleep deprivation. Although most of us know what insomnia is, very few people actually seek medical advice and treatment. Many people are actually unaware of the behavioral and medical options available to treat insomnia.
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However, there are various medications that are said to be effective for treating insomnia. Over-the-counter sleeping pills and long-acting or high-dose sedatives are easy to buy, but they can make the problem worse. Many of these sleep aids contain antihistamines as their main ingredient. Antihistamines are known to cause lethargy and, if used for a long time, can cause memory impairment.
Strong prescription sedatives do not produce a good, natural sleep. If used for a long time, patients may even develop a tolerance or dependence on this drug. However, stopping the drug suddenly can cause insomnia and withdrawal. If insomnia has been interfering with a person’s daily routine or quality of life for a month or more, it’s time to see a doctor to determine what may be causing sleep problems and how to treat them.