5 Sleep Disorders: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Sleep is important. A good night’s sleep is important to function well during the day. However, a number of sleep disorders can affect how much rest a person gets.

Most adults need 7–9 hours of sleep each night. Failure to get enough good sleep has negative consequences for mental and physical health, quality of life, and safety.

That said, sleep disorders are common. Experts estimate that up to 70 million adults in the United States have insomnia and drowsiness problems.

There are many different types of sleep disorders. The four general categories of sleep disorders are as follows:

  • Problems falling and staying asleep
  • Difficulty staying awake
  • Problems with the sleep-wake cycle
  • unusual behavior while sleeping

However, the International Classification of Sleep Disorders, Third Edition (ICSD-3) is the primary clinical text for diagnosing and categorizing sleep disorders. The ICSD-3 divides sleep disorders into six instead of four main categories.

This article looks at five sleep disorders, including their causes, symptoms, and possible treatment options.

Insomnia is the most common sleep disorder, with around 10% of adults experiencing short-term problems. About 20% of short-term cases become chronic. In addition, 30-40% of adults suffer from or occasional insomnia.

Insomnia can mean that a person has difficulty falling asleep, wakes up frequently, or wakes up too early and cannot get back to sleep. It is also important to note that in order for a person to be diagnosed with insomnia, they must also have adequate time to sleep and have symptoms throughout the day.

A doctor can diagnose chronic insomnia if a person’s insomnia occurs 3 nights a week for at least a month.


Insomnia has a number of causes. In some cases there is a genetic component.

An example of this is fatal familial insomnia, a rare genetic disorder of the brain that runs in families. The condition causes insomnia so severe that it becomes life threatening.

Some other, more common causes of comorbid insomnia include:

  • Alcohol, nicotine, caffeine and drug use
  • Stress, anxiety and other mental illnesses
  • Health problems that cause pain, discomfort, or frequent toilet visits
  • some medical conditions


The most effective treatment for comorbid insomnia depends on the cause and whether or not it is a chronic problem.

A doctor must address all of the underlying health conditions, as well as the insomnia itself, to help with a person’s sleep problems.

An important part of insomnia management is educating the individual about sleep hygiene. Good sleep hygiene includes:

  • have a regular sleep schedule
  • after a nightly routine
  • Relax before bed
  • Reducing caffeine and alcohol consumption
  • Be physically active during the day if possible

Snoring occurs when the tissues in a person’s throat relax and some of the airways become closed. The tissue then vibrates when the individual breathes, causing the characteristic snoring sound.

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) causes a person to breathe irregularly while they sleep, which can cause their breathing to stop for 10 seconds or more.

The repeatedly extended pauses in breathing lead to a decrease in blood oxygen, which leads to multiple awakenings during the night. This can lead to quality sleep and other health consequences.


Snoring and OSA appear to be related. Most people with OSA snore. However, not everyone who snores has OSA.

Some causes of snoring and OSA are:

  • Head and Neck Anatomy
  • chronic nasal congestion
  • obesity
  • Sleeping position
  • aging
  • Hypothyroidism

Central sleep apnea (CSA) is a condition that causes pauses in breathing due to a lack of breathing effort during sleep.

In contrast to OSA, these breathing pauses are mainly due to the fact that the respiratory muscles are not activated or the brain does not ask the respiratory muscles to activate.

Experts often associate CSA with an underlying health condition such as stroke or heart failure, medication use, or living at high altitudes. Sometimes it can even be a major problem.


If a person has symptoms of sleep apnea or snoring, they should speak to a doctor to find the underlying cause.

The doctor may recommend an overnight sleep study called polysomnography or an at-home sleep study. Both types of study analyze the individual’s sleep and breathing.

Some treatments include:

  • using a device with continuous positive airway pressure to keep the airway open during sleep
  • Lose weight, if necessary
  • Using a mandibular advancement device to prevent the tissues of the mouth from blocking the airway
  • Treating all underlying medical causes

When a person has a parasomnia, they experience unusual sleep behaviors or events that occur during certain phases of sleep or when transitioning between sleep and wakefulness.

are more common in childhood, but some can persist into adulthood.

Some common ways to categorize are Random Eye Movement (REM) -related and non-REM-related.

REM-related include REM behavior disorders and nightmare disorders.

Non-REM related parasomnias include:

  • sleepwalking
  • wake up confused
  • night terror
  • sleep-related unusual sexual behavior
  • sleep-related eating disorder

Some other notable parasomnias include:

  • Exploding head syndrome
  • Sleep paralysis
  • sleep-related hallucinations
  • Bed wetting

Any unusual behavior a person exhibits while sleeping can be a parasomnia.

A doctor needs to take a detailed medical history, perform a physical exam, and in some cases do a laboratory-based sleep study to make an accurate diagnosis.


There are several possible causes of parasomnia. A person can have multiple triggers, including:


A doctor may need to address the underlying cause of a parasomnia or use other treatments, including:

  • Maintaining good sleep hygiene
  • Take safety precautions, e.g. B. Lock windows and use door alarms for sleepwalking
  • Taking prescription drugs such as clonazepam
  • with over-the-counter supplements such as melatonin

When a person has narcolepsy, they experience excessive daytime sleepiness and may fall asleep at inappropriate times, such as when they are going to sleep. B. during work or while driving a car.

About 10-25% of people with narcolepsy also experience the following symptoms:

  • Cataplexy: This sudden loss of muscle tone means that a person can physically collapse but remain conscious. It often happens in response to a strong emotion such as excitement, laughter, or surprise.
  • Sleep paralysis: This means that when a person wakes up or falls asleep, they cannot move, but they are fully alert.
  • Hypnagogic hallucinations: This means that a person will experience hallucinations while falling asleep, but will also be vigilant. These hallucinations, which can seem like dreams, are often scary and can include visual, auditory, or tactile sensations.

Narcolepsy, which occurs with cataplexy, is called type 1 narcolepsy. If a person doesn’t have cataplexy, they have type 2 narcolepsy.


Type 1 narcolepsy is associated with low levels of a brain chemical called hypocretin. This chemical helps people stay awake and maintain muscle tone.

Type 2 narcolepsy causes many of the same symptoms as type 1 narcolepsy. However, type 2 narcolepsy is not associated with cataplexy or low hypocretin levels.


There is currently no cure for narcolepsy, but doctors can treat it with certain drugs. Some drugs for narcolepsy include:

  • Stimulants that can help keep the person awake during the day
  • Oxybates such as Xyrem (sodium oxybate) and Xywav (lower sodium oxybate) used to improve sleep quality, daytime sleepiness, and cataplexy
  • alarming antidepressants (off-label use), such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, to help with cataplexy
  • Histamine-activating drugs, such as pitolisant (Wakix), to treat drowsiness and cataplexy

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a neurological disorder that often affects women and gradually worsens with age. It causes an uncontrollable urge to move the legs because they feel uncomfortable.

A person may experience pain, burning, tingling, throbbing, or a sensation of insects crawling down their legs. Symptoms usually appear in the evening hours when a person is resting, falling asleep, or sleeping.

RLS can affect a person’s quality of sleep as they wake up constantly at night.


Some possible causes of RLS are:

  • Iron deficiency
  • pregnancy
  • obesity
  • Alcohol, nicotine and caffeine consumption
  • the use of certain medications and dietary supplements


A doctor needs to treat any underlying medical conditions, such as iron deficiency, to relieve symptoms of RLS.

If a person does not have an underlying medical condition, the doctor may recommend lifestyle changes such as weight loss if necessary.

A person may also need to take medications, such as:

  • Gabapentinoids: These include gabapentin (Neurontin), pregablin (Lyrica), and gabapentin enacabril (Horizant). Experts now consider gabapentinoids to be first-line medical therapy for RLS.
  • Dopaminergic active ingredients: These include pramipexole (Mirapex) and ropinirole (Requip). They increase dopamine in the brain and are now the second choice in medical therapy for RLS.
  • Opioids: Doctors usually reserve these very serious cases.

When a person has RLS, moving their legs often helps relieve the sensations. People can also try stretching, walking, or massaging their legs to relieve symptoms.

Multiple sleep disorders can affect the integrity of a person’s sleep and affect their quality of life.

Sleep is important to health, so anyone with insomnia should speak to a doctor to determine what next steps to take.

A number of underlying medical conditions can affect a person’s sleep, and a doctor can help diagnose and suggest appropriate treatments.

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