Sleep Education

American Academy of Sleep Medicine 

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Insufficient Sleep Syndrome – Overview & Facts

Insufficient sleep syndrome occurs when you regularly fail to get enough sleep at night. The result is sleep deprivation. This keeps you from feeling alert and well rested during the day.

It is a result of choices you make that keep you from getting enough sleep. It is voluntary, but unintentional. You are normally unaware that you need more sleep than you are getting. An exam shows that you are able to sleep well when given the chance. It also detects no medical reason for you to be sleepy. A mental exam also reveals nothing abnormal.


Someone with Insufficient Sleep Syndrome may:
  • Routinely spend less than 8 hours in bed at night
  • Have a close friend or family member note that they need much more sleep than they get
  • Have their symptoms improve if they sleep for a longer period of time
  • Be free of any other medical or sleep disorders that might cause their symptoms of excessive sleepiness
  • Have concentration and attention problems, lowered energy level, reduced alertness, distractibility, irritability or fatigue.

Risk Factors

It affects about two percent of people who go to a sleep center for help. It tends to begin in adults who are in their mid-to-late 30s. It often goes undetected until they reach their 40s. It affects a slightly greater number of men than women. It can be caused by a day-shift work schedule. This requires you to be at work at an early hour. Other time demands may then keep you from getting to bed early enough. This reduces your total sleep time. People with this disorder often ignore the obvious cause.


You should see a sleep specialist for a review of all your symptoms. He or she can detect other sleep disorders that may be the cause of your sleepiness. Sleepiness can be a result of many other sleep disorders. These include the following:
  • Environmental sleep disorder
  • Psychophysiological insomnia
  • Obstructive sleep apnea
  • Central sleep apnea
  • Narcolepsy
  • Idiopathic hypersomnia
  • Short sleeper
  • Shift work disorder
  • Delayed sleep phase disorder
  • Periodic limb movement disorder
The doctor will want to know your medical history. A sleep history will also be helpful. This will include questions for your bed partner to complete. You may also need to keep a sleep diary for several weeks. This will show the times when you normally go to sleep and wake up.

An overnight sleep study may be performed. This is called a polysomnogram. It charts your brain waves, heart beat, and breathing as you sleep. It also records how your arms and legs move. This shows if there are other sleep disorders that are causing your sleepiness. 

You may also stay to take a nap study the next day. This is called a Multiple Sleep Latency Test. It measures how fast you fall asleep during the day. It also shows what kind of sleep you have when you take a nap. Other lab tests may also be needed.


Other sleep disorders should first be ruled out as the cause of your sleepiness. Insufficient sleep syndrome is easily treated once it is found to be the problem. You will simply need to begin sleeping for a longer period of time each night. This should end the symptoms.
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