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Common Sleeping Disorders Explained

by BetterSleep
Sep 28 2022 • 11 min read

Sleep disorders can affect people of all ages. According to the American Sleep Association, about 50 to 70 million Americans suffer from chronic sleep disorders.

Sleep disorders, otherwise known as sleep-wake disorders, can cause fatigue, moodiness, and difficulty concentrating during the day. If left untreated, it may develop chronic conditions such as hypertension, obesity, heart attack, diabetes, and stroke. This article will look closely at common sleeping disorders and explain their causes.

What are Sleep Disorders?

Sleep disorders are conditions that affect the ability to sleep well regularly. It involves sleeping problems associated with the quality, timing, and amount of sleep that trigger daytime distress and functional impairment.

Some sleep disorders include insomnia, obstructive sleep apnea, parasomnias, narcolepsy, and restless leg syndrome. In some cases, sleep disorders occur along with other mental and health conditions, such as depression and anxiety.

Common Symptoms of a Sleep Disorder

Most often, people who suffer from a lack of enough sleep generally complain of persistent fatigue. However, growing evidence confirms that insufficient sleep can damage physical and mental health.

Therefore, it is important to be familiar with the signs and symptoms of sleep disorders so that you can seek treatment if necessary. Below are some of the symptoms of sleep deprivation:

  • Feeling tired during the day, even after a whole night’s sleep
  • Sleeping difficulties
  • Waking up frequently during the night
  • Feeling irritable or having difficulty concentrating during the day
  • Having nightmares or night terrors
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness

Causes of Sleep Disorders

Medical practitioners and sleep specialists use different approaches to diagnose sleep disorders. They may perform a physical examination, examine your medical history, and ask about your symptoms.

In most cases, the common causes of sleep disorders include:

Medical conditions

Medical conditions and sleep disorders are closely related. This relationship is especially true for medical conditions that put people in chronic pain.

Chronic pains are any type of pain that lasts 3 to 6 months. The pain may arise for various reasons, from arthritis to migraines to injuries. And it can make it very difficult to get a good night’s sleep. People with chronic pain often wake up frequently during the night due to discomfort, and they may have sleeping difficulties in the first place due to anxiety about their pain.

Often, sleep disorders are caused by other medical conditions. For example, narcolepsy, which is a condition that causes people to fall asleep unexpectedly during the day, is caused by a problem with the brain chemical that regulates sleep.


Some medications can cause sleep problems as a side effect. For example, alpha-blocker medications for high blood pressure can keep you from getting deep rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Beta-blockers for chest pain and heart rhythm problems lower melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate the sleep cycle.

Other medications, such as drugs used to treat Parkinson’s disease, restless leg syndrome, and other neurological disorders, can keep people awake at night.

Mental Health Conditions

About 75% of people with depression and anxiety have difficulty sleeping. In many cases, people with mental health conditions may find that their sleep patterns are disrupted, and they may have trouble falling asleep.

In addition, mental health conditions can also cause changes in how a person perceives sleep and its importance, which can impact the quality of their sleep.

According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, depression and sleep issues have two-way effects. Lack of sleep increases the risk of developing depression, and suffering from depression is likely to trigger sleep issues.


Stress can make it hard to fall asleep or cause you to wake up often during the night. People are constantly stressed and spend time overthinking responsibilities and other things. Those thoughts continuously linger in their minds as they attempt to fall asleep.

Unfortunately, the high-stress level prolongs the time it takes for a person to fall asleep. This phenomenon results in sleep loss, which often triggers negative bodily responses such as the elevation of the stress hormone cortisol. An elevated level of cortisol in the body contributes to sleep disorders.


People who have sleep disorders may have a genetic predisposition to the condition. A recent sleep study established the genetic basis of the following sleep-wake disorders:

  • fatal familial insomnia
  • familial advanced sleep-phase syndrome
  • chronic primary insomnia, and
  • narcolepsy with cataplexy. Insomnia is quite common

Working the Night Shift

Sleep quality is highly dependent on the body’s sleep hormone, melatonin. Working the night shift can cause disruptions in a person’s circadian rhythms, which in turn affects the production of melatonin.

Studies reveal that melatonin secretion occurs right after dark and peaks between 2:00 a.m. and 4:00 a.m during sleep.

When someone works at night, the natural production of melatonin is disrupted. In addition, people who work at night are also exposed to more artificial light than natural light. The changes in the sleep cycle affect the release of the hormone melatonin and interfere with their sleep-wake cycle. This phenomenon can lead to fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and other health problems.

Treatment for Sleep Disorders

If you think you may have a sleep disorder, talk to your doctor to figure out the issues that are causing your sleep problems. The treatment for sleep problems varies, but your doctor will recommend treatment depending on the type of your sleep disorder.

Some of the most popular treatment for sleep issues includes:

Cognitive Behavior Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is an effective treatment for various sleep disorders. This therapy can help people change their thoughts and behaviors around sleep. It can also help people learn how to manage stress and anxiety better. CBT can help you identify and change negative thoughts and behaviors contributing to your sleep problems.

CBT usually involves meeting with a therapist once a week for several weeks. During these sessions, you will learn about sleep hygiene, relaxation techniques, and how to identify and change thought patterns contributing to your sleep disorder.

Sleep Medications

There are several different sleep medicine to treat sleep-wake disorders, including:

Antidepressants. Some antidepressants have sedating effects and can be useful in treating sleep disorders. Common examples include amitriptyline, trazodone, and doxepin.

Anti-anxiety Medications. Medications such as buspirone and hydroxyzine can help reduce anxiety and promote relaxation, aiding sleep.

Sleeping pills. Sleeping pills are effective in improving sleep quality. However, sleeping pills, like other types of medication, should be used only on a short-term basis and under the supervision of a doctor.

Good Sleep Hygiene

Maintaining good sleep hygiene involves making simple changes to your daily routine and environment to promote better sleep. Sleep hygiene measures include avoiding caffeine before bed, establishing a regular sleep schedule, and creating a relaxing sleep environment.

Lifestyle changes

Making some lifestyle changes can also help improve sleep. Some helpful changes include exercising regularly, avoiding alcohol and late-night meals, and managing stress effectively.

Most Common Sleep Disorders

Chronic Insomnia

Chronic insomnia is when a person has trouble sleeping for over three months. People with chronic insomnia often have difficulty sleeping.

Several different symptoms can be associated with insomnia, and not all people who suffer from the condition will experience all of them. However, the most common symptoms include:

  • Difficulty falling asleep
  • Waking up frequently during the night
  • Waking up early in the morning and being unable to return to sleep
  • Feeling unrefreshed after a night’s sleep
  • Feeling tired during the day

These insomnia symptoms can significantly impact your quality of life and lead to other problems such as fatigue, irritability, difficulty concentrating, and depression.


Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder that causes people to experience excessive daytime sleepiness. The hallmark of this disorder includes excessive sleepiness and falling asleep suddenly during the day. Some people with narcolepsy may also experience sudden muscle weakness, hallucinations, and sleep paralysis.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that causes people to stop breathing for short periods during sleep. A sleep apnea patient may suffer repeated episodes affecting the airway during sleep, causing snoring.

Another form of sleep apnea is central sleep apnea, which occurs when the brain fails to send proper signals to the muscles that control breathing.

Both obstructive and central sleep apnea can cause interruptions causing daytime sleepiness and fatigue.

REM Sleep Behavior Disorder

Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep behavior disorder refers to a sleep problem where the sleeper physically acts out vivid and often unpleasant dreams with vocal sounds and sudden arm and leg movements during sleep.

Restless Legs Syndrome

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a sleep disorder that causes an overwhelming urge to move your legs. This urge is often worse at night, making it hard to fall asleep or stay asleep.

People with restless leg syndrome complain of exhaustion and daytime sleepiness that affects their mood, ability to concentrate, work performance, and personal relationships. Studies show that untreated moderate to severe restless leg syndrome contributes to depression and anxiety and leads to a 20 percent decrease in work productivity.

Shift Work Disorder

Shifting Work Disorder (SWS) commonly affects people who work beyond the typical 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. work day. The shift work schedules go against the normal internal body clocks or circadian rhythms, making it difficult for the body to adjust to a sleep-wake schedule.

Circadian Rhythm Disorders

Circadian rhythm disorder is a sleep disorder where the sleep has difficulty sleeping and waking at the correct times.

Nightmares and Night Terrors

Nightmares are scary dreams that can cause fear, anxiety, and sometimes physical reactions such as a pounding heart. Night terrors are similar to nightmares, but they usually happen in children and cause screaming, thrashing, and crying.

Periodic Limb Movement Disorder

Periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD) refers to repetitive limb movements during sleep. It involves sudden movements such as twitching, jerking, or flexing of the limbs that occur most frequently during periods of light, non-REM sleep.

Importance of Enough Quality Sleep

Sleep is an essential human need. It is an essential function that recharges the body and mind. Here are five of the importance of having enough sleep:

Helps in Proper Brain Functioning

Sleep specialists and neuroscientists confirmed that sleep is restorative and helps memory and learning. In an article published in the Sleep Journal, researchers found that adequate sleep refines cortical plasticity, which helps in restoring clarity and performance.

However, studies also confirmed that lack of sleep leads to brain stress and the inability to think clearly. People who suffer from sleep loss are likely to see the negative side of things, causing them to react stronger when faced with a stressful situation.

According to Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, a brain scientist and author, the cells in our brains are constantly working. “When it comes to the brain, sleep is everything,” the American Neuroanatomist said. So, “if you wake up to an alarm before your system is ready, you have cut part of a sleep cycle off that your brain wanted.”

Boost Immune System

Lack of sleep can make a person more susceptible to illness. Getting enough sleep is disease control, as sleep helps the body fight off infection and heal faster.

Sleep provides essential support to the immune system. Getting sufficient hours of high-quality sleep enables a well-balanced immune defense with strong innate and adaptive immunity, efficient vaccine response, and less severe allergic reactions.

In contrast, serious sleeping problems, including sleep disorders like insomnia, sleep apnea, and circadian rhythm disruption, can interfere with the healthy functioning of the immune system.

Sleep and Innate and Adaptive Immunity

Sleep is an important period of bodily rest and plays a crucial role in the immune system’s strength. During nightly sleep, certain immune system components become more active—for example, the production of cytokines increases during deep sleep.

The cytokines are protein components that control the growth and proper functioning of other immune cells and blood cells.

Reduces Stress Levels

Sleep deprivation can increase stress levels. Getting enough sleep helps to reduce stress and promote relaxation.

Improves Mood

A good night’s sleep can improve mood and help a person be less cranky and patient. It can also help with depression and anxiety.

Promotes Weight Loss

Getting enough sleep helps to regulate hormones that control appetite. Sleep deprivation can lead to cravings for unhealthy foods, as the body craves quick energy from fatty and sugary foods.

Studies%20of%20food.) confirm that lack of sleep, even for a single night, can change the levels of our appetite hormones, causing us to feel hungry. Sleep deprivation also affects the way our brain responds to sight or even the idea of food.

Treatment and Self-help

The insomnia problem is easily resolved if we sleep following a routine. If you are having trouble sleeping, you should consult a medical doctor for help.

Considering sleep issues and other mental and physical health conditions is vital. Chronic insomnia is usually treated with sleeping medication or behavioral therapy like cognitive behavioral therapy.

Some people may need to take medications to treat insomnia and to achieve restful sleep every night.

Common Sleep Disorder FAQs

What are the treatment options for sleep disorders?

The treatment options for sleep disorders vary depending on the type of sleep disorder. Often, treatment for a sleep disorder includes making lifestyle changes, such as changing your sleep habits or avoiding caffeine before bedtime. You may also need medication or therapy to treat your sleep disorder.

Another alternative for sleep disorders is listening to music. Researchers found that calming music for about 45 minutes can induce sleep.

What can cause sleeplessness in a child?

Many potential causes of sleeplessness in children include sleep disorders, anxiety, stress, and ADHD. If your child is having difficulty sleeping, talk to their doctor to determine the cause. Often, treatment for sleeplessness in children includes making lifestyle changes, such as establishing a bedtime routine or avoiding caffeine before bedtime. In some cases, medication may also be necessary.

How can I help my child sleep better?

There are many things you can do to help your child sleep better. Establishing a bedtime routine, avoiding caffeine before bedtime, and ensuring your child’s bedroom is dark and quiet can help encourage healthy sleep habits. If your child has a sleep disorder, talk to their doctor about treatment options. Often, treatment for a sleep disorder includes making lifestyle changes and, in some cases, medication.

How can I improve my sleep?

There are many things you can do to improve your sleep. Establishing a regular sleep schedule, avoiding caffeine before bedtime, and ensuring your bedroom is dark and quiet can help encourage healthy sleep habits. Talk to your doctor about treatment options if you have a sleep disorder. Often, treatment for a sleep disorder includes making lifestyle changes and, in some cases, medication.

What are the most common causes of sleep problems?

There are many potential causes of sleep problems, including sleep disorders, anxiety, stress, and ADHD. If you have difficulty sleeping, talk to your doctor to determine the cause. Treatment for sleep problems often includes lifestyle changes, such as establishing a bedtime routine or avoiding caffeine before bedtime. In some cases, medication may also be necessary.

How can I improve my sleep hygiene?

There are many things you can do to improve your sleep hygiene. Establishing a regular sleep schedule, avoiding caffeine before bedtime, and ensuring your bedroom is dark and quiet can help encourage healthy sleep habits. Talk to your doctor about treatment options if you have a sleep disorder. Often, treatment for a sleep disorder includes making lifestyle changes and, in some cases, medication.

Can Music Help Treat Sleep Disorders?

Different types of music can have different effects on the body, and some types can help treat sleep disorders. Moreover, people, who use music for sleep claim there are music characteristics that induce slumber:

  • Music has its unique properties that bring on longer and quality sleep
  • It can block internal and external distractions, including anxious thoughts and sounds.
  • Music puts the listener in a relaxed mood, which is essential for sleep.
  • Music is pleasing and harmonic, and many people use it as an integral part of their bedtime routine.

Wrap Up

Sleep disorders are a common problem, with many people affected by them. The different types of sleep disorders have a range of effects on the body and mind, from mild to severe. They can be treated using different methods, including music therapy.

Music therapy is a treatment that uses music to induce sleep and relaxation. It is a safe and effective treatment that can be used alone or in combination with other treatments.

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