Sleep Disorders

Sleep disorders are changes in sleeping patterns or habits. Sleep disorders affect your overall health, but most disorders can be treated effectively with behavior and lifestyle changes or medicines.

Sleep Disorders Overview

Reviewed: May 22, 2014

Sleep disorders are changes in sleeping patterns or habits. There are more than 80 different sleep disorders that include difficulties falling asleep, staying asleep, or getting restful sleep. Insomnia is the difficulty falling asleep or difficulty staying asleep and it is one of the most common sleep disorders. Other common sleep disorders include:

  • sleep apnea (breathing interruptions during sleep)
  • restless legs syndrome (a tingling or prickly sensation in the legs)
  • narcolepsy (daytime "sleep attacks")
  • parasomnia (disruptive sleep disorders such as night terrors, sleep paralysis, and bedwetting)
  • jet-lag syndrome
  • disturbed biological and circadian rhythms
  • sleepwalking
  • sleep talking
  • teeth grinding

Signs and symptoms of sleep disorders include excessive daytime sleepiness, irregular breathing or increased movement during sleep, difficulty sleeping, and abnormal sleep behaviors.

A sleep disorder can affect your overall health, safety, and quality of life. Sleep is a basic human need, like eating, drinking, and breathing, and is vital to good health and well-being. Sleep needs vary from person to person, and they change throughout your life. Most adults need 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night. Children have different sleep needs, depending on how old they are. Sleep disorders and the sleep deprivation they cause can interfere with work, driving, social activities, and overall quality of life, and can have serious health implications. Not getting enough sleep slows your thinking and reaction time, makes you irritable, and increases your risk of injury. It may even decrease your resistance to infections, increase your risk of obesity, and increase your risk of heart disease. Sleep disorders account for an estimated $16 billion in medical costs each year, plus indirect costs due to missed days of work, decreased productivity, and other factors.

Sleep disorders may be short-term (acute) or long-term (chronic) disorders. They may be due to identifiable causes such as stress or a medical condition or medicines you are taking, but the cause may also be more difficult to identify. With accurate diagnosis, doctors can treat most sleep disorders effectively with combinations of behavior changes, relaxation techniques, and medicines.

Sleep Disorders Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of sleep disorders vary, depending on the type and severity of the disorder, but, in general, lack of sleep causes:

  • daytime tiredness
  • waking up feeling tired
  • irregular breathing or increased movement during sleep
  • difficulty sleeping
  • abnormal sleep behaviors
  • decreased performance at work or school
  • a greater risk of accidents
  • irritability
  • depression
  • trouble with relationships
  • an increased risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes
  • snoring

Sleep Disorders Causes

Sleep disorders are common and can results from many different causes, including:

  • stress
  • illness
  • diet (caffeine and alcohol intake)
  • medications
  • genetics
  • night shift work
  • blindness
  • mental illness

Sleep Disorders Diagnosis

If a sleep disorder is suspected, your doctor may conduct a physical and a neurological exam. He or she will also obtain a complete medical history and discuss your sleep habits and patterns. You may be asked to keep a sleep diary or journal to identify patterns in your sleep behaviors. Sleep studies are available that may help identify the causes of sleep disorders.

Living With Sleep Disorders

Getting a good night’s sleep is vital to your well-being, just as eating and being physically active.

To ensure a restful night’s sleep,

  • stick to a sleep schedule. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.
  • avoid caffeine and nicotine
  • do not exercise too late in the day
  • avoid alcoholic drinks before bed
  • avoid large meals and beverages late at night
  • do not take a nap after 3 p.m.
  • relax before bed by taking a hot bath or reading
  • create a comfortable sleeping environment. Remove distractions such as noises, bright lights, an uncomfortable bed, or a TV or computer in the bedroom.

See a doctor if you have continued trouble sleeping.

Sleep Disorders Treatments

There are treatments for most sleep disorders. The goal of treatment of sleep disorders is to correct disruptive or unhealthy patterns or behaviors in sleep so you can achieve the necessary quality and quantity of sleep for you to function at your best.

Sometimes just having regular sleep habits can help you get a better night’s sleep. Complementary and alternative medicine practices are also popular among patients with sleep disorders. Relaxation techniques such as yoga and muscle relaxation techniques and herbal supplements such as valerian and melatonin can aid in sleep.

Sedative and hypnotic medications can also be used to induce or maintain sleep. Such sleep aids are available in over-the-counter and prescription formulations. Common sleep aids include:

Sleep Disorders Other Treatments

Sleep Disorders Prognosis