Sleep is universal, but it is also extremely individual. Everybody has an amount of sleep that they need in order to wake up feeling refreshed and to be able to function during their waking hours without drowsiness or dozing off. It’s important to understand that if there is a difference between the amount of sleep that you need and the amount that your friend, relative or partner needs, it doesn’t mean that either of you are wrong or that there’s something wrong with you. The healthiest thing that you can do is to stop worrying about other people, figure out the right amount of sleep for you, and make sure that that’s the amount you get.
Unfortunately, one of the challenges that people face in determining the amount of sleep they need lies in recognizing the difference between sleepiness caused by not allocating enough time for sleep and the symptoms of something being wrong. People who suffer from sleep disorders are often unaware that they have them; they may think that they are sleeping well. There are a number of warning indications that signal sleep disorders or disturbed sleep, and these go beyond fatigue, including irritability, depression and an inability to concentrate. Sleepiness during the day may be an indication of sleep apnea, narcolepsy, or other conditions. Drowsiness is one thing; falling asleep at work or behind the wheel is another. If you are experiencing mood swings, depression or excessive sleepiness during the day, it’s probably time to seek help.
The first step to take if you're excessively sleepy during the day is to try to get more sleep. But if your daytime sleepiness is becoming disruptive or dangerous, if you're experiencing difficulty in concentrating, if your sleep partner indicates that you are snoring or if you are waking yourself up gasping for air, it is time to make an appointment with your doctor. Sleepwalking is another indication of something going wrong, particularly in adults. Most family doctors or internists are the appropriate first stop for diagnosis, though if obvious medical conditions that would disrupt sleep are ruled out, the next step would be a sleep specialist who is board certified in sleep medicine, or a sleep center accredited by the American Sleep Disorders Association. Sleep disorders can e quite serious, and it is important that you are cared for by professionals with the appropriate training and experience.
Don't ignore sleep problems. Not only do they jeopardize your health, but they may be an indication, or a cause of underlying emotional or mood disorders. Sleep and mood are closely related, and a lack of sleep can be caused by, or can cause, emotional disturbances such as depression, irritability, and mood swings. Lack of sleep can be a sign of depression or can be caused by depression, and physical conditions such as sleep apnea can easily snowball into mood disorders that require extensive treatment. The best way to prevent a bad situation from getting worse is to see your doctor as soon as you are aware that your sleep problems are more than a minor annoyance.