Sleep Disorders That May Qualify for Disability Benefits

Sleep disorders can have a profound impact on an individual’s daily life, affecting their ability to function at work, school, and in their personal relationships. While many people experience occasional sleep disturbances, some individuals suffer from chronic and severe sleep disorders that can be debilitating.

In these cases, the Social Security Administration (SSA) recognizes that certain sleep disorders may qualify an individual for disability benefits.

In this blog post, we will explore the types of sleep disorders that could lead to disability benefits, how the SSA evaluates them, and the process for applying for disability based on a sleep disorder.

Sleep Disorders with Potential for Disability

1. Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA):

Obstructive sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder characterized by repeated episodes of breathing obstruction during sleep. These obstructions can cause loud snoring, gasping for air, and disrupted sleep patterns.

OSA has been linked to a variety of serious health conditions, including cardiovascular disease, stroke, and metabolic disorders. In severe cases, the constant sleep disruption and oxygen deprivation can significantly impact daily functioning, potentially leading to disability.

2. Narcolepsy:

Narcolepsy is a chronic neurological disorder characterized by excessive daytime sleepiness, which can cause individuals to fall asleep unexpectedly, even during activities such as work or driving.

Along with excessive sleepiness, individuals with narcolepsy may experience sudden muscle weakness (cataplexy), sleep paralysis, and vivid hallucinations. These symptoms can profoundly impact an individual’s ability to perform daily activities, putting them at risk of injury and making it difficult to hold a job.

young black girl sad of sleep disorder

3. Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS):

Restless Legs Syndrome is a condition characterized by an overwhelming urge to move the legs, often accompanied by unpleasant sensations such as tingling, burning, or crawling feelings. These symptoms typically occur in the evening or during periods of rest and can significantly disrupt sleep patterns.

While RLS itself may not necessarily qualify for disability, the resulting sleep deprivation and fatigue can make it extremely challenging to maintain employment or perform daily tasks effectively.

4. Circadian Rhythm Disorders:

Circadian rhythm disorders involve a misalignment between an individual’s sleep-wake patterns and the typical patterns expected by society. These disorders can make it difficult for individuals to fall asleep or wake up at socially acceptable times, leading to chronic sleep deprivation and impaired daytime functioning.

Severe cases of circadian rhythm disorders, such as delayed sleep phase disorder or non-24-hour sleep-wake disorder, can be debilitating and may qualify for disability benefits.

5. Insomnia:

While occasional insomnia is common, some individuals suffer from chronic insomnia that is resistant to treatment. Severe and chronic insomnia can lead to excessive daytime fatigue, impaired cognitive function, and a significant impact on daily life.

In cases where insomnia is severe and has persisted for an extended period despite treatment efforts, it may potentially qualify for disability benefits.

sad man because of sleep disorder and problems

How Disability is Determined for Sleep Disorders

1. Not just a Diagnosis:

The SSA does not focus solely on a diagnosis of a sleep disorder when determining eligibility for disability benefits. Instead, the evaluation process involves demonstrating the functional limitations caused by the sleep disorder and how those limitations impact the individual’s ability to work.

2. The Evaluation Process:

The evaluation process begins with gathering medical evidence, including sleep studies, treatment records, and assessments from the individual’s healthcare providers. The SSA will review this evidence to determine the severity of the sleep disorder and its impact on the individual’s daily functioning.

3. The SSA’s “Blue Book”

The SSA uses a guide called the “Blue Book” to evaluate disability claims. This book lists various impairments, including those related to respiratory disorders (which can include sleep apnea) and mental disorders (which may encompass conditions like narcolepsy). If an individual’s sleep disorder meets or equals the criteria outlined in the Blue Book listings, they may be eligible for disability benefits.

However, even if an individual’s condition does not meet a specific listing, the SSA will consider the combined effects of their sleep disorder and any other impairments they may have.

The SSA evaluates how these limitations affect the individual’s ability to perform work-related activities, such as concentrating, following instructions, and maintaining attendance and productivity.

man taking green tea for sleep disorder

The Application Process for Disability

1. Eligibility:

To apply for disability benefits due to a sleep disorder, an individual must first determine their eligibility. The two main programs for disability benefits are Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). SSDI is available to individuals who have worked and paid Social Security taxes for a certain period, while SSI is a needs-based program for individuals with limited income and resources.

2. Gathering Documentation:

Gathering comprehensive medical documentation is crucial for a successful disability claim. This includes medical records, sleep study results, treatment history, and statements from healthcare providers detailing the individual’s functional limitations and how their sleep disorder impacts their ability to work.

3. Applying:

The application process can be initiated online, by phone, or in person at a local Social Security office. During the application process, the individual will need to provide detailed information about their sleep disorder, symptoms, treatment history, and work history.

4. Potential for Denial:

It is important to note that disability claims are often initially denied, even for individuals with severe sleep disorders. In these cases, it is essential to understand the appeals process and seek assistance from advocacy organizations or legal representatives if necessary.

doctor trying to help a young girl with mental health

Additional Considerations

1. Mental Health Link:

Many sleep disorders have strong ties to mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The SSA recognizes the impact of co-occurring mental health conditions and may consider their combined effects when evaluating a disability claim based on a sleep disorder.

2. Improving Your Chances:

To improve the chances of a successful disability claim, individuals should work closely with their healthcare providers to obtain detailed documentation of their sleep disorder, treatment history, and functional limitations.

Healthcare providers can provide valuable insights into how the sleep disorder impacts the individual’s ability to perform work-related activities.

3. Resources and Support:

There are various resources and support groups available for individuals navigating the disability application process due to sleep disorders. Organizations such as the American Sleep Apnea Association, the Narcolepsy Network, and the Restless Legs Syndrome Foundation can provide valuable information, guidance, and advocacy support.


Sleep disorders can have a profound impact on an individual’s daily life, often leading to significant functional limitations and challenges in maintaining employment. While not all sleep disorders automatically qualify for disability benefits, the Social Security Administration recognizes that severe cases of conditions like obstructive sleep apnea, narcolepsy, restless legs syndrome, circadian rhythm disorders, and chronic insomnia can be disabling.

By understanding the evaluation process, gathering comprehensive medical documentation, and seeking support from advocacy organizations, individuals with debilitating sleep disorders may be able to secure the disability benefits they need to maintain their quality of life.