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Understanding sleep and how lack of it affects your health can allow you to make healthier decisions for you and your family. The following pages share information about sleep disorders and how lack of sleep can affect the health of someone living with a chronic disease. Information is also available about how much sleep is recommended for different age groups and tips on how to improve the quality of your sleep. This section concludes with recommendations on what to do if you are still having difficulty sleeping.

Understanding SleepUnderstanding Sleep Disorders

Sleep-related difficulties affect many people. The following is a description of some of the major sleep disorders. If you, or someone you know, is experiencing any of the following, it is important to receive an evaluation by a healthcare provider or, if necessary, a provider specializing in sleep medicine.

Sleep Apnea

Sleep-disordered breathing (SDB), commonly known as sleep apnea, is associated with an increased risk of cancer mortality, according to a new study. Sleep Apnea is a serious health problem which leaves you feeling tired during the day and more prone to memory problems and even accidents. Advanced sleep apnea also contributes to heart disease, high blood pressure, weight gain and diabetes. Snoring may be more than just an annoying habit – it may be a sign of sleep apnea. Persons with sleep apnea characteristically make periodic gasping or “snorting” noises, during which their sleep is momentarily interrupted. Those with sleep apnea may also experience excessive daytime sleepiness, as their sleep is commonly interrupted and may not feel restorative.


Insomnia is characterized by an inability to initiate or maintain sleep. It may also take the form of early morning awakening in which the individual awakens several hours early and is unable to resume sleeping. Difficulty initiating or maintaining sleep may often manifest itself as excessive daytime sleepiness, which characteristically results in functional impairment throughout the day. Before arriving at a diagnosis of primary insomnia, the healthcare provider will rule out other potential causes, such as other sleep disorders, side effects of medications, substance abuse, depression, or other previously undetected illness.


Excessive daytime sleepiness (including episodes of irresistible sleepiness) combined with sudden muscle weakness are the hallmark signs of narcolepsy. The sudden muscle weakness seen in narcolepsy may be elicited by strong emotion or surprise. Episodes of narcolepsy have been described as “sleep attacks” and may occur in unusual circumstances, such as walking and other forms of physical activity.

Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS)

Restless Legs Syndrome or RLS is characterized by an unpleasant “creeping” sensation, often feeling like it is originating in the lower legs, but often associated with aches and pains throughout the legs. This often causes difficulty initiating sleep and is relieved by movement of the leg, such as walking or kicking. Abnormalities in the neurotransmitter dopamine have often been associated with RLS.

Eyes Wide Shut: Sleepwalking Common in Adults?

New research shows that sleepwalking may be much more common in adults than previously thought and that having depression or anxiety may increase your likelihood of experiencing the condition. The study is published in the May 15, 2012, print issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.