Duke Medicine HealthLine
Published: Nov. 26, 2007
Updated: May 17, 2010
Insomnia is only one cause of sleeplessness. Duke sleep expert Xavier Preud’homme, MD, walked us through the other most common reasons that Americans spend their sleeping hours awake:
The aches, the worries, and the blues. New research shows that insomnia, depression, and anxiety often travel in an unpleasant pack. More important, studies are showing that treating each issue is essential to successfully managing the others.
Being a teenager. All those mornings we moaned and groaned our way out of bed as teenagers were not the result of our pubescent angst or foolish behavior the night before -- well, at least not most of the time. Studies show that the circadian rhythms of adolescents are different from those of adults and children, and are naturally geared toward staying up (and waking up) later. Duke University actually pushed back its earliest class time because of this finding.
Incontinence. In older people, having to urinate frequently during the night is a common problem that can trigger or exacerbate poor sleeping patterns. “Folks don’t often like to talk about it,” says Preud’homme, “but it’s a miserable experience, and treatment can make quite a difference.”
Sleep apnea. This disorder affects up to 10 percent of the population, and it is important to treat right away, because it is associated with high blood pressure, heart attacks, and strokes -- and it’s the leading cause of traffic accidents that result from drivers falling asleep at the wheel. The most common form, obstructive sleep apnea, is often the result of obesity.
Sleepless legs. Periodic leg movement and the related condition known as restless leg syndrome are the second-most common culprits in sleep disruption. These conditions are often related to imbalances in the regulation of dopamine in the brain, and they can also result from an iron deficiency.
Too-great expectations. Some people think they should be sleeping for eight hours every night, but their bodies actually need less than that. If you toss and turn at night but you feel fine during the day, chances are you simply need less sleep than you think.