Common Types of Sleep Disorders: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Topics: sleeping problem, sleep deprivation, sleep disorder

Sleep disorder is a layman's term to describe trouble with falling or staying asleep. They can affect anyone and may result from physical or psychological factors. These problems impact your rest quality and duration and pose issues to your ability to function when you are awake. Our knowledge of sleep problems has improved and contributed to a better understanding in the past years. So, if you suspect that you or your loved one is suffering from a sleep disorder, here is a list of common sleep problems and ways to identify them.

Common Sleep Disorders


What are sleep disorders?

Experts define sleep disorders as conditions that keep you from getting restful sleep. Therefore, these problems cause daytime sleepiness and make you feel exhausted. Although it is quite normal to experience trouble with a good night's rest from time to time, you should contact a sleep expert if it continues in the long run. Some signs you should be on the lookout for if you suspect a sleep disorder include:

  • Experiencing regular difficulty in sleeping
  • Feeling tired the following day, even after resting for seven hours last night
  • Reduced ability to perform regular daytime activities

Are sleep disorders common?

With the increasing stress levels and poor lifestyle habits, more and more people are developing sleep disorders. While some complain they cannot rest at night despite time and opportunity, others feel excessively sleepy. According to the 2019 Physics Global Sleep Survey, about 62% of people worldwide complain of not resting well even after going to bed. These problems are growing rapidly and may affect the overall physical and mental health of individuals.

What happens if you don't sleep?

Experts suggest individuals sleep for seven to eight hours every night. Resting for the recommended time rejuvenates your system and helps you sustain yourself. However, if, because of reasons like sleep disorders, your rest is disturbed, it may take a toll on your body. Not getting the proper amount of sleep can lead to more problems than just feeling tired. It may interfere with your cognitive functioning, resulting in disabilities like poor memory. Also, sleep deprivation is harmful as it may lead to personality changes and depression.

Common Sleep Problems

Besides, some short-term issues also occur because of not resting well. People with poor quality sleep face decision-making problems, irritability, performance issues, slower reaction times, and increased chances of work or road accidents. Despite the type of sleep disorder, the end result is a disrupted sleep cycle and daytime exhaustion. Moreover, sleep loss is bad for your health as it contributes to issues like diabetes, obesity, and heart problems.

What reasons are responsible for causing sleep disorders?

Sleep problems can result from several factors. Some of the common ones include:

  • Physical problems like having an ulcer
  • Genetic issues like suffering from narcolepsy
  • Environmental issues such as over-drinking
  • Psychiatric issues like suffering from depression and anxiety
  • Ageing as many people above 65 suffer from some sleep disorder
  • Medications may interfere with your sleep
  • Working the night shift may lead to sleep problems
  • Medical problems like asthma keep you from resting well

What are the common symptoms of sleep disorders?

People suffering from sleep problems typically show the following signs:

  • Feel sleepy during the day
  • Experience performance problems and reduced productivity
  • Respond to situations slowly
  • Fail to control their emotions
  • Feel the need to take naps during the day
  • Experience memory problems
  • Fail to concentrate at work and have difficulty paying attention
  • Struggle to stay active when awake

How can you diagnose sleep disorders?

People who suspect they suffer from a sleep problem should consult a healthcare provider. If you can maintain a sleep diary with detailed records of your sleep habits and timings, it can be helpful. Based on these entries, the doctor will ask you certain questions. He can even request you to undergo a physical exam to identify the cause of your sleeplessness. Since sleep issues can also result from certain health conditions, you may be asked to take a few more tests to rule out other conditions.

If the doctor suspects you have a rest disorder, he may send you to a sleep expert. The specialist will check your symptoms and may suggest you undergo a sleep study. To take the test, you will have to visit a sleep lab where an exam will be conducted that electronically transmits and records physical activities when asleep. The sleep expert will later review the data to determine the problem.

What questions are asked by your sleep healthcare provider?

For diagnosing whether you have a sleep disorder, your sleep expert may ask you the following questions:

  • How many hours of rest do you catch at night?
  • Do you manage to squeeze in naps during the daytime?
  • Do you have a history of working night shifts?
  • Do you feel a lot sleepy during the day?
  • Do you toss and turn in your bed regularly?

What are the common types of sleep disorders?

Some of the common types of sleep disorders are:

  1. Snoring

    The most common sleeping disorder snoring, refers to the difficulty in keeping the throat open during sleep. As the throat muscles relax, they narrow and eventually close the airway. Snoring is the sound that air makes as it tries to squeeze in through the closing airway.

    Common Types of Sleep Disorders

    So, is snoring bad?

    While snoring is not considered a medical condition in itself, it can be an indicator of a bigger underlying disorder—sleep apnea.

  2. Sleep Apnea

    Sleep Apnea refers to a medical condition where a person experiences intermittent cessation of breathing during sleep. These brief periods of stopped breathing, or apnea episodes, lead to a reduction in oxygen level in the blood, causing a person’s body to be jerked awake.

    The obstruction in breathing may be due to a blocked upper airway, known as Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA). It can also be due to the failure of the brain to signal to breathe, known as Central Sleep Apnea (CSA). In worst cases, it can lead to heart attack, stroke, or sudden death.

    Treatments and therapy options like CPAP are available to treat this condition.

  3. Insomnia

    Insomnia is one of the most common sleep disorders characterised by an inability to sleep. People face difficulty in falling and staying asleep. They take a long time to fall asleep or to get back to sleep if awakened during sleep. If the condition occurs thrice a week and continues for three months, it is called chronic insomnia and requires appropriate treatment, including intake of sleeping pills and cognitive behavioural therapy for insomnia (CBTI).

    Prolonged sleep deprivation caused by insomnia can increase a person's risk of Alzheimer’s.

    Common Types of Sleep Disorders

  4. Restless Legs Syndrome

    As the name suggests, this condition is marked by uncontrollable sensations in legs—such as pins and needles, or bugs crawling up the leg—with a pressing urge to move. The sensations usually subside with movement of the legs either through walking or stretching. There are many factors that can lead to RLS, the most prominent being anemia, pregnancy, and obesity. Medication and adequate intake of iron can help treat this condition.

  5. Circadian Rhythm Disorders

    When a person's biological clock (circadian rhythm) falls out of sync with the external environment, circadian rhythm disorders can set in. These are usually caused due to blindness or in people working in night shifts or frequent travellers experiencing jet lag. These conditions can be treated with exposure to natural light at the correct time to restore the sync and regular sleep cycle.

  6. Narcolepsy

    This is a neurological disorder which affects a person's control over sleep and wakefulness. People experiencing excessive sleepiness during the day, cataplexy, sleep paralysis, and hypnagogic hallucinations are considered suffering from narcolepsy. People suffering from narcolepsy are at risk of falling asleep at inappropriate times—such as while driving—which can prove fatal. Treatment may include stimulants, antidepressants, and xyrem.

  7. Parasomnias

    These disruptive sleep disorders manifest through abnormal sleep behaviour including sleepwalking, sleep sex, rapid eye movement, and so forth. These behaviours are goal-directed and occur while the person is still asleep. Parasomnias can occur due to a number of causes and can be treated through medicines such as melatonin.

    types of sleep disorders
  8. Sleep Paralysis

    This is a dangerous sleep disorder where a person is unable to move their body when waking up from sleep. The person is awake but temporarily unable to move or talk. This generally lasts for a few seconds to minutes.

    Sleep paralysis happens when parts of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep occur while you're awake. And in many cases, it is a very occasional event that occurs in someone who is otherwise healthy. Hallucinations may accompany this condition. Treatment of sleep paralysis can be done through counseling and medication.

  9. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

    The main characteristic of chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is prolonged fatigue that does not subside even after full rest. The condition worsens with any mental or physical activity and can lead to a considerable impact on daily activities.

    It can be caused due to viral infection, psychological stress, or a combination of factors, and is often difficult to diagnose. Currently, there is no cure for this, but treatment can relieve symptoms. Making lifestyle changes, sticking to a sleep routine, and practising methods to conserve the patient’s energy can help treat this condition.

  10. Seasonal Affective Disorder

    This is a mood-related condition, which is often associated with depression or excessive sleep. It occurs when natural light fails to reach the suprachiasmatic nucleus in the brain, such as during winters. Its treatment may include light therapy (phototherapy), medications and psychotherapy.

    SAD can also be developed for opposite patterns where the affected feel depressed in summers. In either case, symptoms may start out mild and become more severe as the season progresses. And if left untreated, can lead to serious complications.

  11. REM Sleep Behaviour Disorder

    Sudden body movements and vocalizations during sleep characterize the condition. It happens because the patient experiences vivid dreams while in REM sleep. When an individual is in the REM stage, the body experiences temporary muscle paralysis that allows him to dream safely, lying still when the brain is active. But, when someone is suffering from a REM sleep disorder, muscle paralysis does not happen because of which the individual physically acts out his dreams. The condition can manifest itself in actions like small muscle twitches, loud shouting, punching, kicking, grabbing their partner, and jumping out of bed.

  12. Excessive Sleepiness

    If someone feels sleepy in the daytime almost every day for at least three months, he might be suffering from excessive sleepiness. In this condition, the individual experiences difficulty staying awake or alert. It gets even more challenging to stay active when you are sedentary, like driving or sitting at work.

  13. Shift-work Sleep Disorder

    A type of circadian rhythm problem, shift-work disorder, is caused by a misalignment between the body and circadian rhythm. It happens due to working in non-traditional hours, outside of the typical 9 to 5 shift. Some common symptoms that people develop in this sleep disorder are insomnia, excessive sleepiness, and recurring sleep loss. To get diagnosed with this condition, one must report signs for at least one month regardless of the attempts to rest each day.

  14. Periodic Limb Movement Disorder

    In this condition, the patients experience repetitive jerking, cramping, and twitching in the lower parts of their limbs while asleep. It might happen for a duration of 5 to 90 seconds for about an hour. These movements can disturb sleep and cause you to feel daytime sleepiness and fatigue the following day.

What should you ask your sleep healthcare provider?

If you have been diagnosed with any one of the above-mentioned sleep disorders, here are a few things you must ask your healthcare provider:

  • What type of sleep disorder do I have?
  • What is the severity levels/stage of my sleep problem? 
  • Will improving my sleep hygiene help my condition?
  • Should I visit a specialist?
  • Are my current medications interfering with my sleep?
  • Do I need to come regularly to the clinic to get treated?

How can you treat sleep disorders?

For successfully treating sleep problems, the following methods are used:

  • Some patients are recommended cognitive behaviour therapy. The counselling helps realize problems with sleep habits and behaviours. It aims to address and change the negative thoughts that may keep people awake at night.
  • To get better, doctors recommend people take sleep medications. But, since this method does not treat problems at the root cause, it is not a long-term solution.
  • To get a good night's rest, patients are advised to exercise regularly. 
  • Some experts suggest sleep disorder patients take light therapy. It involves controlling exposure to outdoor daylight and indoor artificial light sources.
  • Patients should follow good sleep and lifestyle habits to improve their condition.

Besides these more common sleep disorder treatments, sleep experts also suggest sleep disorder patients undergo specific treatments depending on their condition.

What foods or drinks should be avoided for good sleep health?

To reduce the risk of developing a sleep disorder, here are a few food items you must avoid:

  • Diet pills
  • Tobacco
  • Alcohol
  • Antidepressants
  • Decongestants 
  • Caffeinated drinks
  • Antidepressants


Maintaining a healthy body, that is product and work at peak condition, is one of the key reasons why we sleep. So any sleep disorder, if untreated, will slowly but surely impact our health. While most of these stem from changing lifestyles and increasing stress, ignoring them can lead to major health challenges including hypertension, diabetes, obesity, depression and more.

People experiencing any of the symptoms of sleep disorder must seek evaluation by a qualified health provider. Timely intervention can prevent the problem from magnifying and increases the chances of complete recovery, leading to better health.

Most health providers inquire about the sleep issues a person faces. Therefore, it is a good idea to keep a sleep diary with details about the issues that a person faces. If anything abnormal is observed, the health provider can advise appropriate tests and investigations. You can also start by taking a Sleep Quiz, to figure out the issues with your sleep.

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