Are you yawning your way through this Web site? Since it can't be the lack of interesting reading material, you're probably sleep-deprived—an all-too-common consequence of trying to burn the candle at both ends. "Being sleep-deprived means you're not getting as much sleep as your body needs, which is usually the result of spending an insufficient amount of time in bed," explains Martin B. Scharf, Ph.D., director of the Tri-State Sleep Disorder Center in Cincinnati. But it's also possible that you're suffering from excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS), a condition in which you feel very drowsy during the day and have an overwhelming urge to fall asleep—even after spending eight hours in the sack.
To determine if your interminable yawning might be the result of EDS, take this simple test developed by the National Sleep Foundation. For each of the following routine situations, determine how likely the chance that you'd doze off—not at all (0), slight (1), moderate (2), or high (3):
Sitting and reading
Sitting inactive in a public place, for example, a theatre or meeting
Riding as a passenger in a car for an hour without a break
Lying down to rest in the afternoon
Sitting and talking to someone
Sitting quietly after a no-Martini lunch
Being in a car, stopped in traffic
If your total score is 10 or higher, you may suffer from EDS—which is often a symptom of an underlying condition, usually a sleep disorder. A nightmare for those who suffer with them, sleep disorders are generally characterized by frequent, often unremembered, disruptions in sleep. "A good night of sleep is defined not just by how much you sleep but by how interrupted the sleep is," says Scharf.
Though it may seem shocking, a reported 95 percent of people with sleep disorders go undiagnosed and untreated, notes James Maas, Ph.D., a psychology professor at Cornell University and author of Power Sleep: The Revolutionary Program That Prepares Your Mind for Peak Performance. A mitigating factor may be that there are more than 80 different diagnosable sleep disorders. Here are two of the most common.
Literally a lack of breath, sleep apnea is often characterized by habitual snoring. It is a life-threatening breathing disorder in which the airway closes frequently during the night—sometimes as many as 100 times—causing mini-, usually unremembered, awakenings as the sleeper gasps for air. The National Sleep Foundation estimates that sleep apnea affects anywhere from 11 to 30 million Americans—most commonly, middle-aged men and overweight adults. Because it forces the sleeper to suck air through a much-narrower-than-normal air space (and thus causes a drop in oxygen), studies show that those with sleep apnea are two to three times more likely to develop high blood pressure. The news isn't all bad, however: Sleep apnea is easily diagnosed, and treatment—via surgery or the use of a medical device that employs a small compressor to maintain airflow—is very effective.
Restless leg syndrome (RLS)
The tingling, crawling, or prickling sensations associated with this common condition are so acute, they can only be relieved by moving or stimulating the legs. They're most pronounced during inactivity, particularly while trying to fall asleep, and each movement is likely to wake the RLS sufferer. Adding insult to injury, most people who experience RLS also have periodic limb movement disorder (PLMS), which is characterized by a painless periodic jerking of the legs during sleep. Both RLS and PLMS, which are incurable but controllable with medication, are more likely to affect those over 65. While the cause of RLS is unknown, it seems to run in families.