What Is A Sleep Disorder?

If you consistently have difficulty getting a good night's sleep, such as staying asleep through the night or if you find yourself falling asleep at your desk in the middle of the work day, you might have a sleep disorder. A sleep disorder is when a person is unable to sleep soundly and regularly.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, there are over 80 different kinds of sleep disorders, and approximately 70 million Americans suffer from them. There are six categories of sleeping disorders:

Insomnias: This is a type of sleep disorder where one is unable to fall asleep or stay asleep.

Hypersomnias: Conversely, this sleep disorder is when someone experiences excessive sleepiness during all hours of the day.

Sleep-Related Breathing Disorders: This is a type of sleep disorder where one has trouble breathing regularly in the night, which can often lead to a restless sleep and recurrence of waking. This sleep disorder includes anything from snoring to sleep apnea.

Circadian Rhythm Sleep-Wake disorders: In this sleep disorder, the rhythm of one's sleep pattern isn't synced properly, so one often doesn't follow a regular sleeping pattern.

Parasomnias: Those with this sleep disorder often experience physical effects while sleeping, such as hallucinations or sleep paralysis.

Sleep Movement Disorders: This is a sleep disorder in which a person's body moves while asleep, which often disrupts the person's sleep cycle.



Insomnia is when you consistently have problems falling asleep or remaining asleep. However, there are daytime symptoms as well -- those with insomnia often experience fatigue, a loss of their sense of wellbeing and difficulty with concentration or memory due to their sleep disorder. Insomnia is one of the most common sleep disorders, with around 10 percent of people having some form, whether it be mild or chronic.

But just because you have a few nights of rough sleep does not mean you have insomnia. A diagnosis of "short-term insomnia" usually occurs when symptoms are consistent for at least one month, and if the symptoms persist for six months the diagnosis is moved to "chronic insomnia." This sleep disorder is most often caused by stress, whether it be from work, family, school or friends. But it can also be caused by chronic pain making it difficult to sleep, or by some medications.

Anyone can experience this sleep disorder, but it is most prevalent in older people, shift workers and women -- who have twice the rates of insomnia than men.

In extreme cases, medication can be used to treat people with insomnia. Treating this sleep disorder can also be as simple as forming better sleep habits, which you can get tips on in our article "How To Fall Asleep Fast."

Sleep Apnea

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Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a chronic, serious and, if left untreated, sometimes life threatening sleep disorder. When someone with this disorder sleeps, their breaths become more shallow and pauses in breathing occur, which leads to them waking up throughout the night gasping for breath. Because of this, the quality of sleep is hindered and the person afflicted is left excessively sleepy during the day.

This disorder is common, but difficult to diagnose. You might not even realize you have sleep apnea because it occurs during sleep, and oftentimes a significant other is often the first to notice the symptoms and point it out.

There are two kinds of sleep apnea. The most common is Obstructive Sleep Apnea, where the person's airway collapses and becomes blocked during sleep, and that blockage leads to snoring and pauses in breathing. Central Sleep Apnea is much more rare, and is when the brain doesn't send the correct signals to your muscles, which leaves one unable to breathe for a few moments.

If left untreated, sleep apnea can lead to serious health problems including high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke or heart failure. Treatment is long-term management, because the condition is chronic. If you are diagnosed with Obstructive Sleep Apnea, you must wear a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine over your nose and mouth every time you sleep.

Restless Leg Syndrome


Restless Leg Syndrome

Restless Leg Syndrome is classified as a Sleep Movement Disorder. This sleep disorder is a neurological disorder where someone has an uncontrollable urge to move his or her legs and experiences discomfort or even painful sensations in the limbs. These symptoms occur almost exclusively in the late afternoons to night, often disrupting the rest of people with this sleep disorder.

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, it is estimated that seven to 10 percent of Americans have Restless Leg Syndrome. More than 80 percent of people with this disorder are also diagnosed with periodic limb movement of sleep (PLMS), which when one's limbs involuntarily twitch or jerk every 15 to 40 seconds. These movements can last throughout the night, drastically hindering sleep.

The cause of Restless Leg Syndrome remains unknown, but there is a theory it is genetic. People with this sleep disorder also have been linked to iron deficiency, nerve damage and use of nicotine and caffeine. Treatment is often centered around temporary relief, including reduction of nicotine, alcohol and caffeine; increasing iron via supplements; and even taking anti-seizure drugs.




Perhaps the most well-known hypersomnia, this sleep disorder is when someone experiences excessive and overwhelming daytime sleepiness and has a tendency to fall asleep quickly throughout the day. Those with this sleep disorder also experience an abnormal sleep cycle, where they almost immediately enter REM sleep, which usually occurs about 90 minutes into a typical sleep cycle.

Along with being overwhelmingly tired during the day, other symptoms of this sleep disorder include sleep paralysis (which is detailed in our article "Sleep Paralysis"), cataplexy (a sudden weakening of the muscles), and hallucinations.

The cause of this sleep disorder on its own is also unclear. But those who have narcolepsy with cataplexy, the cause has been linked to a loss of hypocretin-producing brain cells, according to a study at Stanford University. Typically, a combination of regulating sleep habits and medications is used to treat this sleep disorder.

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