Types of Sleep Disorders and their Impact

The importance of sleep is frequently discussed, yet millions of people still fail to realize the impact sleep deficiency due to sleep disorders may have on their life.

Some sleep conditions can have both short and long-term adverse effects on your life.

Understanding the different types of sleep disorders that can affect your life, how you can identify these sleep disorders, and what you can do about them, plays an essential part in feeling energized in the morning and getting through the day.

Sleep disorders can be managed through both self-help techniques and through a medical approach, but it is your responsibility to notice the signs before anything can be done.

What is a Sleep Disorder?

Sleep is essential for both psychological and physiological wellbeing. The brain depends on sleep to ensure the previous day’s memories and information can be processed, as well as to prepare for the next day.

The physiology of the body also depends on sleep to get ready for the physical stressors of the following day. Sleep disorders can impose a significant threat to these nighttime functions.

A sleep disorder is classified as a condition that causes interruptions with your ability to obtain an adequate amount of sleep at night. In medical terms, a sleep disorder is often referred to as somnipathy. Any condition that causes interference with sleep in such a way that a person can experience complications in their daily functions can be classified as a sleep disorder.

René E Cormier explains that a sleep disorder typically refers to a condition that includes at least one of the following criteria:

  • Adverse impact on the ability to initiate sleep.
  • Adverse impact on the ability to maintain sleep.
  • Adverse impact on sleep-wake schedule.

A sleep disorder may not only affect the ability to fall or stay asleep but may also interfere with the different sleep stages. This, in turn, can also cause a significant number of adverse reactions in a patient’s life.

Understanding the Different Sleep Disorders

There are also as much as 90 different sleep disorders that people can suffer from, with some being more common than others. This makes a better understanding of sleep disorders essential. If you find yourself struggling to fall asleep or stay asleep, always waking up at night, and experiencing excessive daytime sleepiness, then it might be time to consider yourself a victim of sleep disorders.

Below, we will provide a comprehensive overview of some common sleep disorders that are causing disruptions in the lives of millions around the world. We will provide an overview of symptoms that should be identified, as well as a summary of potential treatment options that are currently available to assist with the management of these disorders.

#1. Insomnia

Insomnia is one of the most common sleep disorders. It is both a condition itself and a symptom of some other sleep disorders that can affect a person.

A study by Swapna Bhaskar et al, showed explains that the healthcare industry neglects this condition, yet may affect as much as 33% of the global adult population. The study also noted that a lot of people who do experience symptoms associated with insomnia disregards the condition and simply goes on with their daily life. While experiencing these symptoms at infrequent occasions may not have a significant impact on a patient’s life, chronically suffering from insomnia can become harmful.

Insomnia is defined as a condition where a person finds it difficult to fall asleep when they get into bed at night. Some people experience more severe symptoms, lying awake for the entire night sometimes. The condition causes sleep deprivation, leading to daytime sleepiness. This can cause a higher risk of being involved in a car accident, due to a risk that the affected patient may fall asleep while driving. Cognitive function can also be adversely affected the next day, which may become a problem at work and at school.

Other symptoms to notice including irritability and finding it difficult to stay awake when participating in activities such as watching a show on television or when the patient is reading a book.

Concentration difficulties, having a slower reaction and finding it difficult to control emotions are also considered symptoms of insomnia. Most people with insomnia also discover that they need to rely on coffee and other drinks that contain caffeine in order to get through the day.

Since insomnia can be a symptom or sign of a more serious underlying health issue, it is important that a treatment protocol does not only focus on improving sleep. A thorough investigation is needed to determine why a patient is finding it difficult to sleep. Some pharmaceutical drugs can help a person sleep better, should it be required. In most cases, however, a change in the individual’s habits and targeting underlying causes can provide effective relief of their symptoms.

Pharmaceutical drugs that may be helpful in alleviating insomnia symptoms may include but not limited to benzodiazepine receptor agonists, also referred to as BzRAs, melatonin agonist ramelteon, or a sedating antidepressant, such as amitriptyline or doxepin. Certain types of atypical antipsychotics and antiepilepsy drugs are also sometimes used as a treatment option for insomnia.

#2. Restless Leg Syndrome

Restless leg syndrome is a condition that can affect a patient during sleep and while they are awake. The condition does, however, tend to be worse while a person is asleep, which is why it is often classified as a sleep disorder. Approximately three million new cases of restless leg syndrome are diagnosed in the United States every year, according to one study.

This condition causes the patient to experience an urge to move their legs, especially at night. Additional symptoms may include a tingly feeling in the legs, as well as throbbing, aches, a burning sensation, or a pulling sensation. Patients usually report improvement in symptoms following activity, but when they sit down or lie down, it becomes worse.

A concerning factor about restless leg syndrome is the fact that the condition causes many people to have difficulties falling asleep. The urges caused by the condition leads to the patient lying awake at night. Additionally, the patient may also continuously wake up during the night due to the effects that the condition has on them.

#3. Sleep Apnea

Couple in Bed

Sleep apnea is another relatively common sleep problem. There are different types of sleep apnea, with obstructive sleep apnea being the most common form of this sleep disorder. Central sleep apnea is another type of this condition but is less common than obstructive sleep apnea. Men are more likely to be affected by sleep apnea than women. Up to 7% of the global male population may be affected by sleep apnea, according to the American Thoracic Society, whereas it is estimated that up to 5% of women are affected.

Sleep apnea is defined as a condition where short pauses in breathing occur during sleep, which is usually caused by an obstruction of the airways of the patient while they are asleep.

The condition can be dangerous in some cases and often goes undiagnosed for many years. The patient affected by the condition is usually not the first to notice the presence of sleep apnea. Those around the patient most often notice the signs of sleep apnea first.

At the moment, Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP Machine) is the standard treatment protocol used in patients with sleep apnea. A CPAP machine option is also available and highly effective. Patients with moderate symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea may be provided a Mandibular advancement device, which helps to increase the space in the mouth during sleep, reducing the risk of an obstruction in the airways. In more serious cases of sleep apnea, a surgical procedure may be a more appropriate treatment approach.

Want to learn more? Top Sleep Apnea Pillows (see our recommendations)

#4. Narcolepsy

Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder that is not as common as insomnia and sleep apnea but still needs to be understood by the general population. This condition causes excessive sleepiness during daytime, as well as cataplexy, a condition where the weakness is experienced in muscles. It has been discovered that narcolepsy occurs due to a reduction in the number of orexin neurons present in the brain. At the moment, medical and sleep experts have not yet identified the exact reason behind this, but an autoimmune reaction is currently suspected to be behind the physiology of narcolepsy. 

This condition causes a person to be sleepy during the day even if they had a good night’s sleep. Many patients with narcolepsy may experience accompanying symptoms that can make their day-to-day life more difficult. Some experience hallucinations that are often described as if the patient is dreaming while awake. Many patients experience a complete shutdown of their muscles while they are awake, causing them to lose control over muscle function for a few minutes at a time.

#5. Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorders

A collection of sleep disorders can be classified into this category of Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorders. These disorders have an impact on the circadian rhythms within the patient’s body. These conditions are associated with some sleep disorders, but may also be linked to depression, seasonal affective disorder, or even bipolar disorder. There are different conditions categorized as Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorders, including:

  • Shift Work Sleep Disorder – This condition is self-explanatory. It occurs when a person frequently changes shifts at work, which interferes with their biological clock.
  • Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder – A condition in which a delay occurs with the biological clock in the patient’s body, causing the person to go to sleep at a much later time than the average individual.
  • Jet Lag – This condition occurs in some people who travel to a location with a different time zone. Changes in their circadian rhythms occur, leading to symptoms like fatigue, insomnia, daytime sleepiness, and headaches. Digestive problems may also develop.

Short and Long-Term Effects of Sleep Disorders

Sleep disorders often cause the affected patient to become deprived of sleep. This can, in turn, have both short-term and long-term effects on their day-to-day functions, as well as on their general wellbeing. Both the physiological and psychological health of a person is affected by sleep loss, especially when this problem becomes chronic due to the presence of a sleep disorder.

One study explains that sleep disorders tend to have a different type of impact in various populations:

  • In healthy adults, sleep deprivation and sleep disorders may cause many short-term effects, including somatic pain, an impairment in their quality-of-life, the development of mood disorders, emotional distress, memory performance deficits, cognitive performance deficits, and an increase in their stress responsivity.
  • In adolescents, short-term effects may include interference with their performance at school, a higher chance that they will partake in high-risk activities, and also problems with their psychosocial health.
  • In children, both cognitive dysfunction and behavioral problems may develop as short-term side-effects of sleep disruptions caused by sleep disorders.

A chronic sleep disorder may also cause a person to become at a higher risk of certain diseases, including:

  • Hypertension
  • Weight-related problems
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Dyslipidemia
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Colorectal cancer
  • Heart disease

How to Manage Sleep Disorders

Sleep disorders can have a dreadful impact on your life if you do not manage them appropriately. While certain pharmaceutical sleeping pills with melatonin as a component and other medical approaches are available to help you manage these disorders, you can also opt for a variety of self-help techniques. One study reported an 84% success when behavioral methods were used to target sleep disorders amongst a young group of patients without pharmaceutical interventions.

Use of relaxation techniques can also be very beneficial for your overall sleeping habits. Different herbal remedies and relaxation techniques can yield positive results in improving symptoms associated with insomnia and other sleep disorders. These relaxation techniques include:

  • Autogenic training
  • Yoga
  • Progressive muscle relaxation
  • Visualization training
  • Biofeedback

Other factors can also affect how well you sleep. Simple changes in your daily habits, for example, can provide you with improvements in sleep. Practicing better sleep hygiene, meaning going to bed clean, can also be helpful for many people.


Sleep disorders are common in the general population. Many of these conditions can cause sleep deprivation and other complications. Signs and symptoms can sometimes be difficult to identify, but adequate education can help you detect the presence of a sleep disorder and take appropriate measures.

Dealing with sleep disorders is possible through different options. This guide provided essential information about various sleep disorders, including their symptoms and proper treatment options. Once identified, you should take action to ensure you get adequate sleep; thus preventing the dreadful effects that sleep disorders may have on your life.

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