Lack of sleep can affect your mood, your health and your looks. Do you frequently have difficulty falling to sleep? Or, when you do, remaining asleep? Are you still sleepy or tired during the day? Do your partner or co-workers refer to as Ms. Grumpy? You are not alone. Studies show one in 10 people in the United States suffers from insomnia, with one in four having occasional sleeplessness.

Common causes of insomnia:
Your mind remains too active and unable to relax because of concerns about work, school, health and family. Having trouble getting to sleep (or sleeping too much) are classic signs of anxiety and depression. Stimulants such as prescription drugs, antidepressants, high-blood-pressure medications, steroids and many over-the-counter decongestants, medications for pain or weight-loss products can cause difficulty sleeping. Changes in your work schedule, changing your job or home environment can upset your circadian rhythms (your internal clocks, which control things like your sleep/wake cycle, your metabolism and your body temperature). Additional culprits include pain caused by surgery, injury, arthritis or fibromyalgia and the long-term use of sleep medications. Oh yes — eating too much or too late at night may make you uncomfortable in general and create heartburn as well. And — my favorite — aging!

Short-term insomnia (several nights or several weeks) can result from temporary situations such as noise, jet lag, an approaching deadline at work or school and, of course, any of those causes already mentioned.

What are the most common sleep disorders?
Several common sleep disorders that have been identified, based on symptoms, include sleep apnea, narcolepsy and restless legs syndrome. Sleep apnea refers to repeated episodes of breathing stoppage lasting 10 seconds or more, usually caused by a blockage in your nose, mouth or throat area. People suffering from sleep apnea usually snore loudly and are tired during the day. Most of the time, those experiencing sleep apnea aren’t even aware of it until their spouse or someone else complains about the snoring or is horrified to discover breathing literally stops for a few seconds. By the way, children can have sleep apnea. With narcolepsy, there are some very recognizable symptoms such as suddenly falling asleep any time of the day while engaged in almost any activity — like eating, driving or talking to someone. This can happen several times a day, lasting for minutes or hours each time. Some people experience sudden muscle weakness while laughing or crying or other emotional reactions. Others experience hallucinations right before one of these sleep attacks. There can also be brief sleep paralysis — temporary loss of the ability to move when just falling asleep or waking. We’ve all heard about it — restless legs syndrome. The exact cause of this discomfort (aching, twitching or jerking movement) in the toes, ankles, knees or hips is unknown. Obviously, it causes loss of sleep, leading to other problems such as sleepiness during the day, which can result in poor performance at work or school or accidents while driving or on the job.

Consequences of insomnia can affect you both mentally and physically, making regular sleep just as important to your health as a healthy diet and regular exercise. And the consequences can be cumulative. Sleep-deprived people are more likely to develop psychiatric problems such as depression or anxiety. Long-term insomnia may make your other chronic diseases like high blood pressure and diabetes more severe. Your immune system responds more slowly; your thinking and problem-solving skills are impaired, causing you to take risks or to react more slowly. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, more than 100,000 crashes EACH YEAR are caused by a driver falling asleep at the wheel. But wait — there’s more. Sleep deprivation increases the effects of alcohol on the body, and it increases pain perception.

Get your beauty sleep — no kidding!
When you’re sleep deprived, whether by choice or circumstance, you’ll also suffer consequences in the “looks” department. Your eyes may appear red (bloodshot) or sunken. You’ll have dark circles that can become puffy. You may lose that sparkle in your eyes. Your skin will be ashen, dull. You may experience breakouts or blotchy spots. Even the most expensive current products can’t help you make up for your lack of sleep. Plus, you may become one — plus-size, that is.

So try to get some major sleep and enjoy the skin renewal/repair and bright eyes you’ll receive. (Catnaps don’t count).

How much sleep is enough?
Believe it or not, heredity determines the answer to this question. Our sleep and waking patterns seem to be inborn. Are you a night owl or an early bird? Do you sleep soundly or awake at the slightest sound or movement? Are you all awake and cheery after five or six hours of sleep, or do you remain grumpy and groggy even after nine or 10 hours of sleep? The aging process is the other major influence on our basic sleep rhythms and patterns. Sleeping “like a baby” is just not going to happen unless you’re a baby. Babies sleep much longer than adults, and when they do, they’re in the restorative phase of sleep about half of the time. From around age 7 to teeny-bopper, melatonin production is highest and sleep is deeper. Adolescents are in the most rapid period of body growth and development, and they need more sleep than when younger. In actuality, they sleep less.

Adults aged 20 to 30 sleep 50 percent less and wake up twice as often as younger people.

In women, reproductive cycles can greatly influence sleep: During the first trimester of pregnancy, they sleep a lot of the time. Changes in hormones and the body can reduce actual sleep time to where less than half of the time in bed is spent sleeping. This, in turn, causes increased fatigue. Postpartum, most women experience even more sleepiness and fatigue. Many women who are not pregnant experience monthly shifts in sleep habits, causing some to fall asleep more easily and sleep more deeply. Some become extremely sleepy and drift off at 7 p.m. Middle-aged men and women experience more frequent nighttime awakenings and, when aroused, stay awake longer periods of time. Several factors are involved. The brain begins to produce less melatonin — the hormone that regulates nighttime sleep and daytime alertness. Menopausal women experience hot flashes that interrupt sleep. Obese people can develop nighttime breathing problems.

Older adults sleep differently and less deeply. Falling asleep takes longer and, again, they may awaken many times during the night. This is particularly true of men with prostate problems. People in their 60s and 70s with high blood pressure should strive to get enough sleep because they’re at greater risk of heart attack, stroke and sudden cardiac death.

Some good news
There are ways to deal with the problem of insomnia. There are over-the-counter and herbal remedies to try after consulting with your doctor, of course. There are prescription drugs that can be very helpful in getting you to sleep and helping you to have more sound sleep. Prescription medications are available to treat disorders like narcolepsy and sleep apnea.

In addition, there are sleep clinics and sleep disorder specialists to detect and analyze your sleep, the problems and your patterns of sleep so they can prescribe the best solutions for the insomnia. Some experts say they have patients who came in thinking their constant fatigue was “normal” and left feeling like “a whole new person.”

Here are a few tips to get you started on the road to (sleep) recovery:

• Stick to a schedule.

• Only use the bedroom for sleep and sex.

• If you can’t sleep, watch TV or read. Don’t fight it.

• Exercise.

• Check your medications.

• Get pain relief.

• Don’t nap during the day.


Written by ANNE MOORE