HANCOCK - Sleep is one of the most important things the body needs - and unfortunately, sometimes one of the most elusive.
Carl Smoot, director of Portage Health's Sleep Medicine Program, said the most common sleep disorder he sees is insufficient sleep, which about 60 percent of the U.S. suffers from. For people in their mid-teens and over, at least eight hours of sleep a night is recommended.
Next are insomnia, which has affected about 40 percent of people, and sleep apnea, which is twice as common as asthma. Some people also suffer from narcolepsy, characterized by periods of daytime drowsiness. They may also take medications that interfere with their ability to fall asleep.
Smoot said sleep is a learned behavior. And that can cause problems when other factors intrude on your sleep cycles. For instance, many women develop insomnia after childbirth.
"They have a learned behavior of light sleep, multiple awakenings sometimes that continues into later adulthood," he said.
Not getting that sleep can pose some serious problems.
"If you have poor sleep habits, one of the main problems is sleepiness during the day, but also it increases automobile and truck accidents, it increases industrial work accidents," he said.
The effects of lack of sleep can mimic depression, cause irritability, and also lead to study problems.
"We see a lot of children and young adults, their main complaint is poor performance in school," Smoot said. "That's related to poor sleep habits."
When patients come in, Smoot tells them about maintaining proper sleep cycles. The body's circadian rhythms have evolved so that we wake with the rise of the sun and sleep when it sets.
People are at their sleepiest from 2 to 5 a.m., with another dip during the day from 2 to 5 p.m.
"You hear people talk about having a big lunch, and that's why they're sleepy," Smoot said. "It's not related to that at all. That's a circadian dip in alertness in the afternoon."
Smooth takes a full sleep history from patients, and asks them if they have a consistent waking time.
"If somebody's working shifts where they have days for four days, night for four days, and they're off once you get over 40 or so, it takes 72 hours to shift to another sleep cycle, so those people never catch up," he said.
Setting also counts. People may have a person or pet sleeping nearby disturbing them, or live by a main highway.
Your sleep can determine how well you do your job, how well you get along with others - many of the factors that influence our day, Smooth said.
"Your sleep really determines how the rest of your life is conducted," Smoot said. "Sleep disorders are so common they're really five-six times more common than high blood pressure."
Fortunately, Smoot said, most sleep disorders are easily remedied.
That's just a matter of a person identifying that they have a problem, getting to their health care provider and getting it fixed," he said.