The term sleep disorder may suggest someone tossing and turning all night, but lying awake for hours with insomnia is just one example of many conditions that affect how you sleep and function during the day. In fact, you can have a sleep disorder and not even know it.
There's no normal number of hours that quantifies a good sleep. Most adults need seven to nine hours a night; others manage just fine with six. It's even possible to get too much sleep, because spending excess time in bed can be a sign of another health problem, such as depression or chronic fatigue syndrome.
Finding your own ideal sleep/wake cycle is key to healthy sleep, says Carol Ash, medical director of the Sleep for Life center in Hillsborough, N.J.
In a British study, scientists also found that people who are consistently sleep deprived (defined as sleeping five hours or less a night) are at greater risk for high blood pressure and cardiovascular problems.
Insufficient sleep also raises your risk for obesity, diabetes, depression, alcoholism, and automobile accidents. Plus, a 2007 University of California–Berkeley study confirmed the obvious: Sleep deprivation directly affects areas of the brain that deal with mood and concentration.
Doctors need to look at both the quantity and the quality of sleep to detect a problem. When it comes to sleep quality, problems aren't always obvious to patients. An insomanic who lies awake at night can easily tell that something is wrong, for example, but someone with sleep apnea might have no idea there's a problem.
The most telling sign of a disorder is how you feel during the day. If you generally wake up alert and refreshed, you're a healthy sleeper. If you chronically wake up sleepy, irritable, and unfocused, you may have a sleep disorder.
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