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Undiagnosed sleep problems may lead to health issues

Sixteen percent of Georgia's residents experience persistent problems staying awake during the day, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that was published online in the American Journal of Epidemiology. However, only 10 percent of the people in the study reported having been diagnosed with a sleep disorder.

The research points to the importance of diagnosing and treating sleep problems before they could potentially develop into long-term health issues.

The study also found that in addition to problems staying awake:

• 35 percent of the people surveyed wake up in the morning feeling unrefreshed

• 33 percent report that they snore

• 31 percent cannot sleep through the night

• 25 percent complain that they have problems falling asleep.

"Excessive daytime sleepiness can be an indication of an undiagnosed sleep-related disorder," says study author Michael Decker of the CDC's Chronic Viral Diseases branch.

"Insufficient sleep and sleep disorders are associated with chronic diseases including diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke and obesity. Sleep-related issues also can be primary symptoms of mental illness such as depression. But sleep-related issues also can be symptoms of other problems."

Because the study reflects Georgians in urban and rural areas, there is a probability that the findings can be generalized to the rest of the United States, but further studies would be needed to confirm this, Decker said.

This study analyzed 2005 data from "The Georgia Study of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome," in which 6,530 randomly selected adults were interviewed. According to William Reeves, chief of the Chronic Viral Diseases branch, prevalence of daytime sleepiness and sleep-related complaints were similar among metropolitan, urban and rural Georgians.

Diagnosis of sleep-related issues is important. People who don't get enough sleep, or have poor quality sleep, can present a hazard on the roads and in their jobs. Their sleep-related problems may also be associated with a reduced quality of life.

"Our findings highlight the need to educate the public about the symptoms of sleep disorders and to prompt them to seek appropriate care. We must also educate health care providers to recognize symptoms of sleep disorders when they are reported, and to act upon them," says Decker.

The CDC has created the website www.cdc.gov/sleep to provide information about sleep and sleep disorders.