We’ve all experienced our fair share of sleepless nights from stress and busy schedules, but when is an ongoing lack of sleep truly a sleep disorder? An estimated 50 million to 70 million adults in the United States have a sleep or wakefulness disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These people have trouble performing daily tasks, remembering details, operating vehicles and staying awake throughout the day.
"People who do not get enough sleep accumulate sleep debt, which is the difference between the amount of sleep you should be getting and the amount you actually get,” says Joanna Cooper, M.D., a neurologist and sleep medicine specialist with the Sutter East Bay Medical Foundation. “Sleep deprivation can lead to excessive daytime sleepiness, loss of concentration and attention, and other serious cognitive disorders.”
We spend about a third of our lives asleep, during which time our bodies repair muscles, consolidate memories and release hormones regulating growth and appetite. Sleep plays a direct role in how energetic and focused we are during the other two-thirds of our lives.
Andrew McClintock-Greenberg, M.D. , Ph.D, a pulmonary, critical care and sleep medicine specialist with the Sutter East Bay Medical Foundation, says many people don’t realize how deeply a lack of sleep can impact them during their waking hours.
"Recently, I saw a young man for a respiratory disorder. During the visit he could barely keep his eyes open. I asked him to take a sleep study. I ended up treating him for respiratory issues and sleep apnea,” Dr. McClintock-Greenberg says. “Many people never talk with their doctors about their problems sleeping or their fatigue, but they should."