Types of Sleep Disorders

As sleep disorders are increasing in the US, the situation is worsening with every passing day. 

At the moment, only less than 30% of high school students are getting more than eight hours of sleep during weeknights. On the whole, one-third of US adults get less than seven hours of sleep in a day. 

These statistics are pretty concerning since medical experts recommend up to eight hours of undisturbed sleep in 24 hours. 

Some people may experience sleeplessness every once in a blue moon. However, others have chronic conditions that might make it difficult for them to sleep easily. 

This article will discuss what sleep disorders are and the types of sleep disorders that commonly affect people.

What Are Sleep Disorders?

A woman that is sleeping on a table.

Also called sleep-wake disorders, sleep disorders involve a lack of quality and consistent sleep in a person. Since the sleep amount is not enough, the person feels tired, dizzy, and sleepy during the day. Also, this condition leads to a lack of focus and impairs the person’s functional abilities.

The reasons for a sleep disorder are multiple, including any persistent physical or mental condition. Moreover, it has plenty of types, some of which are detailed below.

Types of Sleep Disorders

When going through a list of sleep disorders, you’d be surprised to find that not all of them are related to a lack of sleep. An increased sleep or daytime grogginess also characterizes some.

Following are some of the types of sleep disorders.


Insomnia is one of the major sleep disorders that are increasing at an alarming rate. Right now, about 50% of US adults suffer from insomnia at a point in their lives. 

Simply, insomnia refers to an individual’s inability to sleep or to remain sleeping. It may be due to different reasons, including anxiety, depression, stress, or jet lag. 

Sometimes, digestive problems and hormonal imbalance might also cause insomnia. Besides keeping you up at night, insomnia also leads to other health concerns, including depression, obesity, impaired performance, and lack of concentration. 

The sleeping disease is common among the elderly but can also affect young individuals. It may be of one of the three types: 

  • Transient Insomnia: It lasts for only a few nights at once. 
  • Intermittent: It occurs periodically.
  • Chronic: It happens regularly for over a month. 


While the absence of sleep characterizes insomnia, parasomnias refer to a group of sleeping conditions that cause abnormal behaviors while sleeping. These are:

  • Bedwetting
  • Sleepwalking
  • Sleeptalking
  • Jaw clenching
  • Groaning
  • Excessive nightmares

People suffering from parasomnias usually don’t remember their movements from the night. A primary concern of this disorder is that it also disturbs the people sleeping around you. 

Moreover, parasomnias can be dangerous if you’re in an unfamiliar setting, as you may walk into an unknown room. 

A concerning type of parasomnia is Exploding Head Syndrome. In this condition, you hear non-existent noises in your head before sleeping or after waking up. The noises can range anywhere from a loud bang to a bomb exploding. 

Episodes of Exploding Head Syndrome can cause a lot of psychological stress and may trick you into thinking that you’re having a stroke. 

Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea refers to a condition in which your breathing pauses during sleep. It’s a concerning medical condition that requires immediate attention as the body is not getting enough oxygen while resting. It may also wake you up from sleep. 

Older men are at a higher risk of sleep apnea. Some other significant causes of sleep apnea include:

  • Thicker neck circumference
  • Obesity 
  • Family history 
  • Smoking
  • Narrow airway

The two types of sleep apnea are: 

Central Sleep Apnea 

In this type, the connection between your breathing muscles and the brain is disrupted. That’s why you’re unable to breathe for specific periods during sleeping.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea 

In this type, the airflow stops in the passageway as the airway might be too narrow. 


Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder that affects you while you’re awake. The sufferer has sudden sleep attacks – they tend to sleep anywhere without warning. 

Narcolepsy may also lead to sleep paralysis, making it unable for you to move from your spot when you wake up. 

Sometimes, narcolepsy might be associated with cognitive or neurological problems, like multiple sclerosis. 

REM Sleep Behavior Disorder

Unpleasant dreams and vivid sounds characterize Rapid Eye Movement or profound sleep disorder. Although its onset is slow, the disease can progress rapidly. Some severe sleep disorders symptoms include:

  • Movement in bed (patients tend to punch or jump in response to a dream they’re having in which they’re trying to escape a situation)
  • Noises (shouting, crying, laughing, or even swearing)

When they wake up, the sufferers have no account of the dream they were having. 

Sleep Paralysis

Sleep paralysis is a condition in which you’re awake but cannot get up from the bed or move at all. Your body is in the middle of sleeping and wakefulness. 

Often, people who suffer from this problem can’t be woken up from sleep. Sleep paralysis may occur itself or accompany narcolepsy.

Restless Leg Syndrome

The Restless Leg Syndrome is among the most common sleep disorders. People who suffer from RLS have an overwhelming urge to move their legs. In some cases, their legs might tingle too. 

RLS is quite concerning as it’s often linked to severe conditions, like Parkison’s disease and health problems.

Circadian Rhythm Disorder

It is a condition in which your internal biological clock does not synchronize with the external environment. Generally, our biological clock or circadian rhythm releases neurochemicals that induce sleep or drive it away.

In people with circadian rhythm disorder, the sleep/wake cycle and the internal biological clock mismatches. This condition may be triggered due to various reasons, including:

  • Complete blindness
  • Night shift jobs
  • Jet lag
  • Old age

The irregular internal clock thus leads to either sleep deprivation or excessive sleeping. However, you can re-sync the internal clock and the external time cues in the following ways:

  • Rightly timed exposure to natural light,
  • Using sleep aids such as melatonin to help you sleep at night
  • Following a fixed sleep-wake routine

Sleep Disorder Symptoms

By and large, the symptoms depend on the type and severity of a particular sleep disorder. In addition, the underlying causes are another deciding factor of overall symptoms.

However, the general sleep disorder symptoms include:

  • Problems falling or staying asleep
  • Fatigue during daytime
  • Abnormal breathing rhythm
  • Sleep attacks during the day
  • Abrupt sleep cycle changes
  • Anxiety
  • Lack of focus
  • Snoring
  • Increase in weight
  • Unusual movements while sleeping

Remember that not all of these symptoms appear in a single person fighting sleep disorders. You may experience some or even only one of these sleep disorder symptoms depending on the type of disorder.

What Are The Causes of Sleep Disorders?

Most of the time, sleep disorders develop due to an underlying health condition. Nonetheless, other factors may also trigger these disorders in you.

Here are the most common causes of sleep disorders.

Respiratory Infections

Respiratory problems, including allergies, colds, and infections in the upper respiratory tract, cause breathing problems while sleeping. In addition, the difficulty of breathing with your nose can, in turn, make it hard for you to sleep properly.


Stress and anxiety are the major factors that lead to sleeping problems. They do not let you sleep altogether. However, even if you fall asleep, staying asleep is challenging. Moreover, sleepwalking, nightmares, and sleep talking further add to your misery of sleep disruptions.

Underlying Illness

Sometimes, there isn’t a clear and identifiable cause of a sleep disorder. But there are situations when a particular sleep disorder appears due to an already present mental or physical health condition.

For instance, a specific autoimmune problem or even brain injury is the basis of narcolepsy typically.

Chronic Pain

Woman having trouble falling asleep.

It’s difficult to even fall asleep with severe pain constantly bothering you. Sometimes, the pain may even wake you up from a deep sleep leading to sleeping problems.

Chronic pain may result from:

  • Arthritis
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Severe headache
  • Lower back pain

Sleep Disorders Diagnosis

Although there’s no standard sleeping disorder test, your doctor will do a detailed exam to collect information about your medical history. Plus, they may do other tests, such as: 

  • Electroencephalogram: A test to check the brain’s electrical activity. 
  • Polysomnography: A test for brain waves, oxygen levels, and bodily movements. 
  • Multiple Sleep Latency Test: A test for narcolepsy that studies daytime napping. 

How Can You Treat Sleep Disorders?

After diagnosing the causes of sleeplessness in adults, doctors may advise medical interventions, including:

  • Sleep aids such as pills
  • Dental guards (people with teeth grinding habits)
  • Medicines for underlying conditions 
  • Breathing device for sleep apnea
  • Melatonin supplements

Alternatively, making lifestyle changes can also improve sleep problems in adults and children. 

  • Setting a regular sleeping routine and sticking to it
  • Reducing gadget use before bed 
  • Sleeping on time to prevent sleep deprivation 
  • Eating low-carb meals before bed 
  • Reducing stress
  • Limiting caffeine intake late in the evening 

If you suspect your sleeplessness might be turning into a chronic sleep disorder, get medical attention as soon as possible. 

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Anyone can fall prey to sleep disorders at any stage of their life. As mentioned above, there’s no particular reason for the emergence of these disorders. Moreover, since there are various types, the sleep disorder symptoms can vary for each one of them. 

However, taking sleep aids and following a particular sleep/wake pattern can effectively help you get rid of this condition.

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