A woman partially covers her face with a bedsheet.At some point in life, many individuals face issues sleeping. Sleep issues can stem from a variety of factors such as stress, illness, medication, alcohol, nicotine, anxiety, and an array of other possibilities. Sleep deprivation affects the body in several different ways. A lack of sleep can make day-to-day tasks like driving and critical thinking harder, but it also can lead to serious health issues later on.

It is important to recognize symptoms and seek out treatment if you believe that you may have some form of sleep disorder. The information below will detail different types of sleep disorders and their symptoms and offer steps for dealing with them.

Common Types of Sleep Disorders

The term “sleep disorder” is an all-encompassing term that includes multiple types of conditions. Below are some of the most common sleep disorders and their symptoms.


Insomnia is a sleep disorder that makes it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep, or it may cause you to wake up and be unable to fall back asleep. This sleep disorder can be short-term acute insomnia and only last a couple of days or weeks, or it can also be long-term chronic insomnia that is a constant, every night thing.

Insomnia has a variety of causes such as stress, anxiety, improper hormone balance, digestive issues, substance addiction, travel, poor sleeping patterns, and even eating too late at night. If you are a woman, if you are over the age of 60, or if you have mental/physical health conditions, you could be more susceptible to insomnia than others.


  • Difficulty falling asleep;
  • Restlessness;
  • Waking up at inconvenient night hours;
  • Waking up before your alarm;
  • Feeling tired after sleeping;
  • Daytime fatigue;
  • Irritability;
  • Depression/anxiety.


Narcolepsy is a chronic sleep disorder that causes individuals to struggle with daytime drowsiness, which leads to unavoidable sleep. The sudden attacks of sleep may occur at any time and they occur without warning. You could be having a conversation, and fall asleep mid-sentence.

The cause of narcolepsy is unknown, but some think it has to do with genetics. Those with narcolepsy tend to have lower hypocretin levels; hypocretin is responsible for regulating rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, so this could also be a factor. If you are between the ages of 10 and 30 years old, or if your family has a history of narcolepsy, you could be more at risk of narcolepsy.


  • Constant daytime drowsiness;
  • Muscle tone loss;
  • Hallucinations;
  • Changes in REM sleep;
  • Sleep paralysis.

Restless Legs Syndrome

Restless legs syndrome is a sleep disorder that consists of uncontrollable urges to move your legs. Although some argue this is not a sleeping disorder, restless legs syndrome is most common at night — though many people experience these irrepressible urges throughout the day as well.

Individuals with restless legs syndrome feel an unpleasant sensation in their legs or feet. This sensation has been described as crawling, creeping, pulling, throbbing, aching, itching, and electric. If you are pregnant, it runs in your family, or if you have peripheral neuropathy, an iron deficiency, kidney issues, or spinal cord conditions, you may be more at risk.


  • Restless sensations after resting;
  • Only feeling relief when moving;
  • Increased evening restlessness;
  • Leg twitches;
  • Constant fidgeting.

Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that causes breathing to stop and start repeatedly while an affected individual is asleep. There are three primary types of sleep apnea:

  1. Central sleep apnea: This type of sleep apnea occurs when the brain cannot send signals to your muscles that control your breathing;
  2. Obstructive sleep apnea: This type of sleep apnea occurs when the throat muscles become overly relaxed. This is the most common form of sleep apnea;
  3. Complex sleep apnea: This type of sleep apnea occurs when you struggle with both central sleep apnea and obstructive sleep apnea.

Unlike many other sleep disorders, there are a lot of risk factors for sleep apnea, so if any of the following applies to you, you may be more at risk for sleep apnea:

  • Obesity;
  • Thick neck;
  • Narrowed airway;
  • Being a male;
  • Being elderly;
  • Family history of sleep apnea;
  • Excessive alcohol;
  • Pain medication;
  • Nasal congestion;
  • Additional medical conditions (heart issues, high blood pressure, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease).


  • Loud or constant snoring;
  • Gasping for air during sleep;
  • Constant dry mouth when you wake up;
  • Headaches in the morning;
  • Insomnia;
  • Irritability;
  • Issues with focus.

Sleep Paralysis

Sleep paralysis is a sleep disorder that causes afflicted individuals to have the feeling of being awake, yet they are unable to move. If you’ve ever had this issue, or are dealing with it now, sleep paralysis occurs because of your body’s inability to transition between sleep and wakefulness. This can last anywhere from a couple of seconds to several minutes. There are two types of sleep paralysis:

  1. Predormital sleep paralysis (hypnagogic): Occurs when you are falling asleep;
  2. Postdormital sleep paralysis (hypnopompic): Occurs when you are waking up.

If you are lacking sleep, you have an inconsistent sleep schedule, you have a mental condition, you use certain medication (e.g. ADHD medication), or you have a substance abuse problem, you may be more at risk for sleep paralysis.


  • Inability to move when falling asleep;
  • Inability to move when waking up;
  • Inability to speak when falling asleep;
  • Inability to speak when waking up;
  • Hallucinations;
  • Chest pressure;
  • Breathing difficulties;
  • Sweating;
  • Headaches;
  • Muscle pains;
  • Paranoia.

How to Deal With Sleeping Disorders

There are different methods for dealing with and treating sleep disorders. While lifestyle changes may work for one individual, medical treatments may be the only route to relief for another individual.

Lifestyle Changes

According to the American Sleep Association, you can manage different sleep disorders with lifestyle changes. These lifestyle changes consist of:

  • Avoiding alcohol and drugs;
  • Eating healthy;
  • Regularly exercising;
  • Developing a routine;
  • Creating a specified bedtime;
  • Upgrading your mattress or pillow;
  • Using background noise;
  • Avoiding caffeine at night;
  • Adjusting room temperature.

If you are someone who has a hard time making lifestyle changes, you may want to consider taking advantage of an occupational therapist (OT), or occupational therapist assistant (OTA). Although OTs and OTAs are different, during their training both medical professionals learn about sleep physiology, sleep disorders, and evidence-based sleep practices. This training helps occupational therapists develop various skills and traits that are relevant to helping clients with sleep issues make lifestyle changes. Or, the OT may suggest additional medical treatment for your sleep disorder.

Medical Treatments

If you have made different lifestyle changes and you’re still having problematic sleep, it could be a good idea to seek out additional medical treatments. Below are a few of the different medical professionals who can help with different sleep disorders:

  • Dentist: A dentist can prescribe oral appliances to help eliminate sleep issues related to sleep apnea, including teeth grinding and snoring issues;
  • Neurologist: A neurologist can help with issues like sleep apnea, narcolepsy, and insomnia because those particular sleep disorders could be linked to neurological issues;
  • Psychiatrist: Most sleep disorders affect how you function and they stem from some sort of underlying issue. By talking to a psychiatrist, you’ll get help recognizing different sleep disorders that you are at risk for, or if you might currently have a sleep disorder that is causing additional problems;
  • Pulmonologist: A pulmonologist is a great option for individuals struggling with sleep apnea specifically. Pulmonologists often have some sort of additional training in sleep medicine, and they are trained to take care of various issues like asthma that can lead to sleep apnea;
  • Sleep doctor: A sleep doctor specializes specifically in sleep, and they are trained to deal with all forms of sleep disorders. They also may have backgrounds in other helpful specialties like pulmonary medicine, psychiatry, or neurology.

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