Insomnia and sleep apnea are the two most common sleep disorders and are frequent causes of disturbed sleep. Insomnia, which affects up to a third of Americans at some point during their lifetime, refers simply to an inability to sleep. Most people should get at least seven or eight hours of sleep a night. People who are consistently unable to get this much sleep, either because they have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep (or both), have insomnia. Insomnia can have many causes, from stress and depression to chronic pain. Some medicines also can cause insomnia. However, in many cases insomnia has no discernable cause.
The most common type of sleep apnea, known as obstructive sleep apnea, occurs when the throat muscles relax during sleep and block the airway, momentarily interrupting breathing. These breathing interruptions cause people to partially awaken, preventing them from falling into a deep sleep. People with sleep apnea usually aren’t aware of the disturbances in their sleep, but they wake up in the morning without feeling well rested. Sleep apnea is most common in seniors and in people who are overweight, and people with sleep apnea typically snore. The condition is more than an inconvenience; in addition to tiredness, it is associated with a higher risk of diabetes and heart disease. The standard treatment for sleep apnea is a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) mask, which fits over the nose during sleep and produces a steady stream of air to keep the airway open.