Sleep Disorders Health Center

Over 50 million American adults have chronic sleep and wakefulness disorders. There are many different kinds of sleep disorders, but the most common ones deal with insomnia (not being able to fall asleep or stay asleep) and sleep apnea (poor sleep due to physical or neurological problems with breathing during sleep) and narcolepsy (excessive daytime sleepiness).

Restless leg syndrome (need to move while falling asleep), and sleepwalking are less common, but often cause considerable distress and disability. Treatments for sleep disorders generally can be grouped into four categories: behavioral treatments, rehabilitation management, medications and other somatic treatments.

Diagnosis is often made by the patient going to a sleep lab, where breathing, heart rate, and brain activity is measured while the patient sleeps. Medications include sleep aids for insomina (Ambien, Sonata, Lunesta), as well as over the counter remedies (Benadryl, Unisom, and melatonin).

Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a common disorder in which you have one or more pauses in breathing or shallow breaths while you sleep.

Breathing pauses can last from a few seconds to minutes. They often occur 5 to 30 times or more an hour. Typically, normal breathing then starts again, sometimes with a loud snort or choking sound.

Sleep apnea usually is a chronic (ongoing) condition that disrupts your sleep 3 or more nights each week. You often move out of deep sleep and into light sleep when your breathing pauses or becomes shallow.

This results in poor sleep quality that makes you tired during the day. Sleep apnea is one of the leading causes of excessive daytime sleepiness.


Narcolepsy is a disorder that causes periods of extreme daytime sleepiness. It also may cause muscle weakness.

Rarely, people who have this disorder fall asleep suddenly, even if they're in the middle of talking, eating, or another activity. Most people who have narcolepsy also have trouble sleeping at night.

Narcolepsy affects between 50,000 and 2.4 million people in the United States. Symptoms usually begin during the teen or young adult years. Due to extreme tiredness, people who have narcolepsy may find it hard to function at school, work, home, and in social situations.


Insomnia  is a common condition in which you have trouble falling or staying asleep. This condition can range from mild to severe, depending on how often it occurs and for how long.

Insomnia can be chronic (ongoing) or acute (short-term). Chronic insomnia means having symptoms at least 3 nights a week for more than a month. Acute insomnia lasts for less time.

Some people who have insomnia may have trouble falling asleep. Other people may fall asleep easily but wake up too soon. Others may have trouble with both falling asleep and staying asleep.

Review Date: 
March 13, 2012
Last Updated:
June 28, 2013