Sufficient sleep is not a luxury – it is a necessity – and should be thought of as a vital sign of good health.” ~ Wayne H. Giles, MD, MS, Director, Division of Population Health, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.

It’s not uncommon for clients we work with to experience difficulty sleeping from time to time. Perhaps there is a major life event occurring, or things have been very stressful at work. In these cases, however, the client’s challenges with falling or staying asleep are short-term, situational, and dependent on external life circumstances. Acute sleep difficulties such as these are vastly different from the chronic and consequential problems of a sleep disorder, which are ongoing and much more problematic.

Defined as difficulties falling or staying asleep, falling asleep at the wrong times, sleeping too much, or abnormal behaviors during sleep (University of Maryland Medical Center), sleep disorders affect approximately 70 million Americans today (Cleveland Clinic). There are approximately 80-100 different types of sleep disorders that fall into the following four main categories (University of Maryland Medical Center):

  • Insomnia – Defined as problems falling and staying asleep, insomnia can be short-term (lasting 3 weeks or less) or chronic and long lasting, often plaguing a client for months or years.
  • Excessive Daytime Sleepiness – Defined as problems staying awake, excessive daytime sleepiness can be caused by the sleep disorder Narcolepsy. It can also be caused by medical conditions such as fibromyalgia, low thyroid function, or viral illnesses such as mononucleosis.
  • Sleep Rhythm Problems – Defined as problems following a regular sleep schedule, sleep rhythm problem is often caused by irregular sleep-wake syndrome, paradoxical insomnia, or shift work sleep disorder. A minor cause of this that has an acute affect on millions of people is jet lag.
  • Sleep-Disruptive Behaviors – Defined as unusual behaviors during sleep, sleep-disruptive behaviors include restless leg syndrome, sleep terrors, sleepwalking, and REM sleep-behavior disorder, which causes an individual to move and potentially act out dreams during REM sleep.

Sleep disorders such as these can be very difficult to treat and if ongoing, can lead to major health concerns.


Adequate rest and sleep are imperative for good mental and physical health, and are required to function effectively in our daily lives. A well-rested brain is needed for optimal performance in such areas as processing, retaining, and recalling information; effective decision-making; storing memories; and managing emotions. A well-rested body is needed for optimal performance in areas such as quick reflexes, sustained energy level and energy endurance, and a responsive immune system.

Consequently, untreated sleep disorders and ongoing sleep deprivation can severely affect one’s mental and physical well-being. It is common knowledge that sort-term consequences of sleep deprivation include increased stress and anxiety, errors in judgment, irritability and other mood problems, decreased performance, and decreased alertness leading to accidents or other traumatic events.

It is less known, however, that chronic sleep deprivation can have a lasting, detrimental impact on the body and mind overtime. Research has shown that sufficient sleep plays a prominent role in long-term health and the body’s ability to ward off chronic diseases and medical conditions. It is said to be a key aspect of chronic disease prevention, while insufficient sleep has been linked to diseases and disorders such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, hypertension, depression, anxiety, and increased addictive behaviors (NCBI).

Be sure to check out next week’s posting… Common Treatments for Sleep Disorders.

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