What Are the Major Sleep Disorders?

By Temma Ehrenfeld @temmaehrenfeld
April 08, 2020

When you wake up tired, you might wonder if you need medical help. Do you have a sleep disorder? Exactly what are the major sleep disorders? Learn more.

An estimated 50 to 70 million Americans have sleep disorders.

You might think a little sleepiness or fatigue isn’t a big deal. That’s wrong. Chronic sleep deficiency is linked to heart and kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, obesity, and depression.

A lost night’s sleep can mean a car accident the next day or a devastating fight with your spouse. For seniors, it could lead to a fall that puts you in the hospital and later a nursing home.

So, when is your sleepiness a reason to see a doctor? There are many ways you can improve your sleep on your own. You may need a new mattress, or to sleep in a different bed from a snoring or restless partner. You might need to rejigger your schedule so you are in bed for more hours. Maybe you just need to stay away from your smartphone at night, or at the very least, put on the blue light filter.

If you’ve tried the do-it-yourself remedies, evaluate whether you need help with one of these common sleep problems.


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Insomnia. Do you have trouble falling asleep? Do you wake up in the middle of the night? It’s normal to have a bad night every so often. Insomnia is chronic over three months or more. Unfamiliar or high levels of stress, medications, anxiety, depression, and drug or alcohol misuse can all bring it on. You may need cognitive behavioral therapy, which helps you examine the thoughts that keep you awake, or your ideas about sleep. A doctor may also write a prescription.

Sleep apnea. Daytime sleepiness, morning headaches, and loud snoring are tell-tale signs of sleep apnea. Many people don’t realize they have a problem until a sleep mate complains. Snoring is a sign that your nose or throat are blocked in a way that interrupts your breathing while you sleep. You might need allergy treatment for a badly stuffed nose, devices that keep your nostrils open, or a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine, which keeps your airway open via a steady stream of air.

Restless leg syndrome. Do you kick or move your arms hundreds of times during the night? Restless leg syndrome is one of the least understood sleep disturbances. Medications can trigger it, especially if you have genes that make you susceptible. The problem sometimes arrives when you’re pregnant. Before you seek medication, cut back on caffeine and alcohol and make sure you’re getting enough exercise.

REM sleep behavior disorder. Some people don’t just move their arms or legs — they thrash around and jump out of bed. The problem: the brain mechanism that prevents movement during sleep isn’t working.

Narcolepsy. Do you fall asleep at odd moments, or do you feel as if you are about to fall asleep at any moment? Narcolepsy, though rare, can be treated with medication.

Sleepwalking. Serious sleepwalkers are actually asleep when they go to the refrigerator at 3 a.m., not battling insomnia. The cause may be a fever or medication. Try cutting back on liquids near bedtime and be rigorous about a good sleep routine. Children tend to be most vulnerable.

Sleep terrors. A nightmare contains a story. Sleep terrors are different: people scream and thrash around in fear while semi-asleep and have no story to tell. Adults with post-traumatic stress disorder and children are vulnerable to these sleep disturbances.

Teeth grinding. Waking up with a headache and a sore jaw may mean you’ve been grinding your teeth. The cause may be anxiety. You may need a mouth guard. Even better, develop a relaxing pre-bed ritual.


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April 08, 2020

Reviewed By:  

Janet O'Dell, RN