Sleep Disorders

Sleep disorders are defined as anything that disrupts the quality and quantity of sleep you receive on a consistent basis. Learn about the various types of sleep disorders and how to treat them.

By Elizabeth Petty

According to the National Sleep Foundation, it’s believed that 50 to 70 million Americans suffer from some type of sleep disorder. There are more than 80 types of sleep disorders that fall into one of seven categories that include, insomnias, sleep-related breathing disorders, sleep-related movement disorders, sleep-wake disorders, hypersomnias, and parasomnias.

What Causes Sleep Disorders

Sleep disorders can be caused by a number of things, some of which include:

  • Mental illness, most commonly depression and anxiety
  • Physical conditions such as pain, heart disease, lung disease, and nerve disorders
  • Medications
  • Genetics
  • Operating on an irregular schedule, such as shift-work
  • Aging

In some cases, the cause of sleep disorders is unknown. However, what is known is that involuntarily failing to get an adequate amount of sleep on a regular basis is abnormal. Our bodies need an average of seven to eight hours of sleep each and every night to properly function. Without proper sleep, all aspects of health and wellness are at risk due to the critical functions that take place during sleep.

How Do I Know if I Have a Sleep Disorder?

In some cases, individuals don’t even realize they have a sleep disorder and it takes their bed partner, who recognize abnormal sleep behavior, to point them out. Yet, there are a number of signals one can observe in themselves that indicate they suffer from some kind of sleep disorder. These include:

  • Taking longer than 30 minutes to fall asleep on a nightly basis
  • Waking up several times throughout the night and failing to fall back asleep
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness
  • Waking up “unrested” or feeling as if sleep was not “restorative”
  • Lack of energy
  • Mood swings, specifically you are easily irritated through the day
  • Your bed partner says you snore loudly, snort, or stop breathing for periods of time
  • You jerk often in your sleep
  • You have tingling feelings in your limbs when you lay down to go to sleep each night
  • Experiencing vivid, dreamlike experiences while falling asleep or dozing

The most blatant symptom that you have a sleep disorder is being constantly tired as a result of little sleep, failing to fall asleep easily, frequent interruptions during sleep, and overall poor quality of sleep.

How Sleep Disorders are Diagnosed

If you believe you may have a sleep disorder, the first step is to discuss your observations and concerns with a physician. They will ask a number of questions about your sleep habits, quality, physical health, and quality of life that may indicate whether or not you have a sleep disorder. However, for a sleep disorder to be properly diagnosed, a sleep study is required. A sleep study consists of staying overnight at a sleep clinic where polysomnography is performed. All this means is your brainwaves, heart rate, oxygen levels in your blood, and eye and leg movements are recorded and measured. A sleep study serves two purposes: to diagnose a certain sleep disorder and to rule out other potential causes of sleep disturbance. Now, you can even partake in a sleep study at home.

Types of Sleep Disorders

There are numerous types of sleep disorders that fall into one of seven categories; however, oftentimes different disorders can be closely related. The most common types of sleep disorders in American adults are insomnia and obstructive sleep apnea.

Sleep Apnea, Snoring, and Other Sleep-Related Breathing Disorders

Sleep-related breathing disorders, also called sleep-disordered breathing, are defined by abnormal respiration during sleep. The most common sleep-related breathing disorder is sleep apnea.  Twenty-five million American adults suffer from obstructive sleep apnea and half the population reports snoring, which is a habit our culture tends to laugh about but in reality, is not normal. Learn more about specific sleep-related breathing disorders below:


Insomnia is defined by difficulty falling or staying asleep and is one of the most common sleep disorders across the US population, affecting roughly 40% of adults at some point in their lives. There are two categories of insomnia: primary and secondary. Primary insomnia means experiencing sleep problems unrelated to any other health condition or life circumstance. Secondary insomnia means experiencing sleep issues as a result of something else.

Insomnia also varies in the length of time it lasts and the frequency in which it’s experienced. In some cases, insomnia is experienced for a short period of time (acute insomnia). Other times, individuals may experience insomnia in the long-term (chronic insomnia).

Learn more about the symptoms, causes, types and treatment for insomnia:

Sleep-Wake Disorders

Sleep-wake disorders, also known as circadian rhythm disorders, are experienced when the body’s internal clock (circadian rhythm) is out of sync with the surrounding environment. In other words, people with this type of sleep disorder fail to fall asleep and wake up at appropriate times— i.e. sleep during the day and stay awake at night. Some of the most common sleep-wake disorders are jet lag disorder, shift-work sleep disorder, delayed sleep phase disorder (DSP), and advanced sleep phase disorder (ASP). Learn more about sleep-wake sleep disorders:


Hypersomnia is a sleep condition in which you feel excessive sleepiness during the day even if you have logged an adequate about of shut eye the night before. You can think of hypersomnia as the opposite of insomnia. Hypersomnia is sometimes referred to as excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS) disorder. Similar to insomnia, hypersomnia can be a primary or secondary condition. People who suffer from chronic tiredness caused by hypersomnia often have difficulty functioning during the day due to a lack of concentration and energy. Learn more about hypersomnia types and treatments:


Parasomnia is the word used to categorize abnormal behavior that can take place during sleep. Some of the parasomnias you’ll be most familiar with are nightmares and sleepwalking. However, there are a number of other parasomnias you may not of heard of, such as, sexsomnia, sleep paralysis, and sleep-related eating disorder. Ten percent of the population is affected by this type of sleep disorder and it’s most likely linked to genetics. Learn more about different types and treatments for parasomnias.

Movement-Related Sleep Disorders

Sleep-related movement disorders are abnormal movements that take place while falling asleep or during sleep itself. The most common sleep disorders of this kind are teeth grinding, also known as bruxism, and restless leg syndrome (RLS). It’s estimated that one in ten adults have RLS and roughly 15 percent of children are known to grind their teeth in their sleep. In most cases, this type of sleep disorder resolves itself. Learn more about the different types of sleep-related movement disorders.

Is Sleep Deprivation a Sleep Disorder?

The short answer is no.

By definition, sleep deprivation is defined by failing to obtain adequate sleep. Sleep deprivation is nearly always an involuntary side effect of sleep disorders, but it is not a sleep disorder itself. Nevertheless, lack of sleep can lead to a number of health issues including diabetes, depression, high-blood pressure, and heart disease to name a few. Therefore, it is very important to attain the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep each night if you are capable. For those who are affected by some type of sleep disorder that interrupts sleep, seek help from a medical professional.

Risks and Dangers of Sleep Disorders

Speaking of sleep deprivation, although each individual sleep disorder has a number of health and safety consequences of its own, one consistent danger across all sleep disorders is sleep deprivation.

The risks of sleep deprivation go far beyond daytime tiredness. In fact, sleep deprivation wreaks havoc on your physical, mental, and emotional health. The cumulative long-term effects of chronic sleep disorders have been associated with an increased risk of obesity, diabetes, depression, heart attack, and stroke. Therefore, if you believe you are suffering from any type of sleep disorder, contact your physician and discuss your concerns.

How Sleep Disorders are Treated

The good news for those who suffer from a sleep disorder is that you don’t have to continue living is the vicious cycle of lost sleep and daytime fatigue that take a toll on your physical, mental and emotional wellness.

Before reaching for medication to solve your inability to sleep, contact your physician. Seeking out a medical professional will help diagnose and effectively treat your sleep disorder, as well as the underlying causes.

In most cases, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the best solution for treating various sleep disorders, in which negative thoughts and behaviors are addressed to help solve the underlying cause of the disorder.  CBT is particularly helpful in treating insomnia.

Other sleep disorder treatments include CPAP therapy for sleep apnea, various medications, and other types of behavior therapy.

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