Common Sleep Disorders Overview

Common Sleep Disorders Overview

Sleep is essential for health and well-being. Unfortunately, many people suffer from sleep disorders that prevent them from getting the restorative rest they need.

According to the American Sleep Apnea Association, 50-70 million adults in the U.S. have a sleep disorder. In this blog post guide, we will overview of some of the most prevalent sleep disturbances people experience and how they impact health.

1. Insomnia

Insomnia is characterized by persistent struggles with falling or staying asleep. A person with insomnia has difficulty initiating or maintaining sleep at least three nights per week for three months or longer .

Stress, underlying health issues, medications, changes to routine or environment, and reliance on technology late at night can trigger the condition.

Insomnia is the most common sleep disorder in the U.S., with 10-30% of adults experiencing short-term insomnia and 10% struggling with chronic insomnia . Both types can severely impair functioning and negatively impact work performance, relationships, mood, cognition, and overall well-being.

2. Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea causes repeated pauses in breathing throughout the sleep cycle. When breathing stops, it triggers the brain to pull the body out of deep sleep so normal respiration can resume. This prevents the body from ever achieving truly restorative rest.

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is the most common type, which arises when soft tissues in the back of the throat collapse, blocking the airway. Central sleep apnea occurs when the brain fails to transmit signals to the muscles controlling breathing. Up to 6% of adults struggle with clinically significant sleep apnea, although many more may be undiagnosed.

If left untreated, sleep apnea raises the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and driving or workplace accidents.

sleep disorder

3. Restless Leg Syndrome

People with restless leg syndrome (RLS) deal with unpleasant sensations in their legs combined with an irresistible urge to move them. Symptoms mainly occur during periods of inactivity and worsen in the evening and nighttime hours – making it extremely challenging to fall asleep.

Up to 10% of U.S. adults suffer from RLS, with many experiencing symptoms a few nights per week . The sensations can range from mildly uncomfortable to painful, severely disrupting sleep. Studies show people with RLS are three times more likely to experience depression and anxiety. Lifestyle changes and medications may help alleviate symptoms.

4. Narcolepsy

Individuals living with narcolepsy struggle with sudden, uncontrollable bouts of sleepiness throughout the day. If they experience an episode during an activity, they will instantly fall asleep – even for just moments at a time .

Along with excessive daytime sleepiness, people with narcolepsy may deal with sudden muscle weakness triggered by emotions, known as cataplexy.

Narcolepsy is relatively rare, impacting 1 in 2,000 people in the U.S. Symptoms often begin early in life between ages 10 to 25 . Doctors sometimes prescribe stimulants to reduce daytime sleep attacks or lifestyle changes like scheduled napping.

5. Circadian Rhythm Disorders

Our internal circadian clock governs the timing of periods of sleepiness and wakefulness during a 24-hour cycle. When the circadian rhythm gets disrupted or desynchronized from external cues like sunlight, it causes circadian rhythm disorders. Examples include delayed sleep phase syndrome (DSPS) and advanced sleep phase syndrome (ASPS).

In DSPS, a person cannot fall asleep until very late at night but struggles to wake up until late morning or early afternoon. With ASPS, an individual becomes excessively sleepy in early evening and has difficulty staying awake past 8 or 9 pm but then wakes up extremely early.

These conditions can hinder work performance and disrupt family life. Doctors may prescribe timed melatonin supplementation to help reset the circadian clock.

Sleep-Related Movement Disorders

6. Sleep-Related Movement Disorders

During REM sleep, the stage when dreaming occurs, the brain paralyzes muscles to prevent acting out scenes from dreams. With REM sleep behavior disorder, that paralysis does not take place, enabling people to speak, shout, punch, kick, and leap out of bed in response to dream content (12). Hard, violent movements can harm themselves or bed partners.

Various medications are sometimes prescribed to reduce REM sleep behavior disorder episodes by limiting REM sleep time and dream intensity. Practicing good sleep habits like sticking to a routine, restricting caffeine, and reducing stress may also minimize occurrences.

7. Sleep Bruxism

Many people periodically clench their jaw or grind their teeth slightly while sleeping without consequence. However, in up to 13% of adults, forceful, repetitive teeth grinding and jaw clenching cause sleep bruxism .

Episodes can damage teeth, contribute to temporomandibular joint dysfunction, and cause facial pain. Custom dental mouthguards worn at night buffer the effects of clenching. Addressing sources of life stress may also prove beneficial.


Difficulty sleeping affects up to 70 million Americans across demographics and negatively impacts nearly every aspect of health – from concentration, productivity, and motor performance to physical and mental wellness.

Thankfully, various lifestyle strategies, medical devices like CPAP machines, oral appliances, and medications exist to help alleviate symptoms from some of the most prevalent sleep disorders like insomnia, sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, and more based on their underlying causes.

Working with knowledgeable healthcare providers is essential for accurately diagnosing sleep disturbances. Specialized sleep centers offer overnight sleep studies to monitor brain waves, oxygen levels, heart rate, breathing patterns, and muscle/eye movements to identify issues interfering with restorative sleep.

From there, appropriate interventions can improve sleep quality and duration for enhanced daily functioning and longevity.