Last updated: Apr 28, 2008
man-sleep-problem
Men—especially those with thick necks and high BMIs—are at greater risk for sleep apnea.
(ISTOCKPHOTO)

Sleep problems are equal-opportunity afflictions; they strike men and women, from children and teenagers to the elderly. More than half of Americans say they have trouble sleeping a few nights a week, and nearly one in five feels fatigued almost every day.



And while anyone can struggle with occasional bouts of tossing and turning, there are certain people who run a higher risk of developing a sleep disorder than others. Here are some of the major risk factors for four common conditions, and circumstances that may make you susceptible to sleep problems in general.

Obstructive sleep apnea
Your risk is higher for obstructive sleep apnea if you:
  • Snore loudly
  • Are male or a post-menopausal female
  • Are overweight
  • Have a thick neck (greater than 16 inches in women, 17 inches in men)
  • Have naturally small airways in your nose, throat, or mouth
  • Experience frequent congestion due to hay fever or allergies
  • Are a smoker
  • Are a heavy drinker
  • Are African American, Hispanic, or a Pacific Islander
  • Are an older adult
  • Have high blood pressure
  • Have a family history of sleep apnea
  • Have diabetes
  • Have had a mild brain injury
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Insomnia
Your risk is higher for insomnia if you:

 

  • Are female
  • Are pregnant or menopausal
  • Are an older adult
  • Are under a lot of stress
  • Suffer from depression or other mental disease
  • Work at night or have frequent major shift changes at work
  • Travel long distances with time changes
  • Have a family history of insomnia

Restless legs syndrome
Your risk is higher for restless legs syndrome (RLS) if you:

 

 

  • Are female
  • Are middle-age or older
  • Have a family history of RLS
  • Are of northern European descent
  • Are pregnant (symptoms usually occur during the last trimester and disappear within a few weeks of giving birth)

Narcolepsy
Your risk is higher for narcolepsy if you:

 

 

  • Have a brother, sister, or parent with narcolepsy
  • Have certain thyroid disorders
  • Have diabetes
  • Have an autoimmune disorder

Sleep disorders often surface along with other health problems, as symptoms of both conditions feed off each other. Pain or depression can keep you up at night, for example—while insomnia, in turn, makes pain and depression worse. If you have a chronic disease that might contribute to sleep problems, make sure your doctor addresses both.