For some people, late-night TV watching or Web surfing is to blame. But for many others, the culprit is insomnia (trouble falling or staying asleep) or sleep apnea, a condition in which the airway closes and breathing stops or becomes shallower hundreds of times each night. It causes relentless daytime fatigue that may lead to failed careers, broken marriages, and automobile and workplace accidents.
Sleep apnea can also wreak havoc on the cardiovascular system, because the heart must work harder every time the brain sends out a "wake up and breathe" signal. People with sleep apnea are prone to high blood pressure, heart failure, and stroke. Although more than half of the estimated 18 million American who have sleep apnea are overweight, many are not. The disorder affects about one in 25 middle-aged men and one in 50 middle-aged women. By age 65, about one in 10 people has the problem. A short video about sleep apnea, which describes the symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of the disorder, can be seen at www.health.harvard.edu/video/sleep-apnea.html.
Improving Sleep: A guide to a good night’s rest also explains other sleep disorders, including restless legs syndrome, periodic limb movement disorder, narcolepsy, and disturbances in sleep timing. The report also describes:
- How sleep loss may lead to weight gain
- Health problems and medications that affect sleep
- Relaxation strategies and behavioral treatments for insomnia
- What happens during an overnight sleep study