Can’t Sleep? Check This Sleep Disorders List To See If Your Symptoms Match Up

September 17, 2017 |


Sleep disorders can occur at any age and for many different reasons. They range far beyond insomnia and may include some bizarre behavior in extreme cases, such as sleep eating or driving. If tossing and turning at night has kept you awake for as long as you can remember, it might be time to consult with a list of sleep disorders to see if you have one.

Getting a proper diagnosis from a sleep specialist is an important part in determining what treatment is best for you. Sleep disorders can range in severity from one case to another. They tend to run in families and can even be more prevalent in one gender over the other. In many cases, a disruption of the internal body clock is to blame for sleep problems. Check out this sleep disorders list to get a better understanding of why they occur.

How Do Sleep Disorders Develop?

Some people have had sleep problems for many years while others claim their symptoms came out of the blue. Most sleep disorders occur when there is a disruption in your internal sleep cycle, otherwise known as the circadian rhythm.

The circadian rhythm is a set of psychological processes that occur within the body during a 24 hour period. It is responsible for controlling the eating and sleeping habits in all living things. Functions of the circadian rhythm include hormone production, cell regeneration, brain wave activity, metabolism, and other biological processes that occur on a daily basis (1).

Your circadian rhythm is otherwise known as the “body clock." It tells you when to go to sleep, when to wake up, and when to eat. Although internal factors control your internal body clock, it can also be influenced by environmental cues, such as temperature and light. When you throw off your circadian rhythm, you may have problems with your sleep and eating habits. It can also increase the risk of many health concerns, such as depression, bipolar disorder, obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular problems (2).

Here are some quick facts about your circadian rhythm:

  • Your circadian rhythm is extremely sensitive to light. Research shows that daylight savings time can throw off your sleep schedule for days. Even light from your smartphone or television can disrupt your sleep cycle by decreasing melatonin production. Melatonin is a hormone needed to make you feel tired. Exposure to an electronic device late at night can trick your brain into staying awake longer.
  • Camping has been shown to reset your circadian rhythm by bringing you back to a natural wake-sleep cycle that is controlled by the sunrise and sunset. A 2013 study found that city birds remained active for longer periods at night while forest birds went to sleep earlier. The researchers discovered that the circadian rhythms of city birds were 50 minutes shorter than forest birds (3). Getting rid of artificial light and noise by camping for one week could help city dwellers reset their biological clocks to mimic that of a forest bird.
  • Social jet lag can mess up your circadian rhythm even if you don’t travel across several time zones. Staying up late on the weekend to attend social events can confuse your internal clock and make it harder for you to return to normal on Monday morning. To avoid social jet lag, try to keep the same sleep schedule, even on weekends. If you go to bed late on Friday or Saturday night, try to wake up at the same time the next morning and avoid sleeping in.
  • A disrupted circadian rhythm that causes sleep deprivation may affect your immune system. Your immune system produces protective proteins when you sleep that are needed to fight inflammation and infections. Lack of sleep may reduce the production of these proteins and other protective antibodies, which leaves you more vulnerable to illness (4). You may also feel depressed as a result of an altered circadian rhythm. According to a 2008 study, people with depression have altered circadian rhythms, mood problems, and sleep disturbances (5).
  • Even fruits and vegetables have a circadian rhythm! A 2013 report found that produce doesn’t die once it’s picked. It continues to respond to its external environment for days. Researchers can even use light to make vegetables and fruits produce more anti-cancer properties (6).

Your circadian rhythm is finely tuned into your internal and external environment. It can be thrown off by drinking too much, staying up late at night, and even genetics.

Here are some common causes of sleep disorders (7):

  • Disturbances to your physical health, such as chronic pain
  • Medical conditions such as asthma
  • Personal habits such as drinking or smoking
  • Psychiatric disorders such as anxiety and depression
  • Stress, including a breakup, the loss of a loved one or moving
  • External factors such as temperature changes, light, and noise
  • Genetics or having a family history of narcolepsy
  • Certain medications
  • Aging

Although you can’t change certain factors that influence your circadian rhythm, such as your age or genetics, you can make better choices regarding your sleep habits. If you’re still having problems sleeping or improving your sleep hygiene, you may have a sleep disorder.

sleep hygiene

Sleep Disorders List And Definition

Sleep disorders are categorized by their symptoms and the process in which they affect you (8). According to the latest edition of the International Classification of Sleep Disorders, which was updated in 2014, sleep disorders fall into the following six groups (9):

  1. Insomnia

Insomnia occurs when a person has problems falling asleep and maintaining sleep. It may include waking up several times during the night or waking up earlier than desired in the morning. To receive an insomnia diagnosis, a person must experience trouble with falling asleep, staying asleep, waking too early, or not experiencing enough restorative sleep despite spending adequate time in bed. A person may also experience daytime drowsiness as a result of their lack of sleep (8).

Insomnias can either be primary or secondary. Primary insomnia occurs when another illness does not cause a person's sleep disorder.

There are six types of primary insomnia:

  • Adjustment insomnia
  • Psychophysiological insomnia
  • Paradoxical insomnia
  • Idiopathic insomnia
  • Inadequate sleep hygiene
  • Behavioral insomnia of childhood

Secondary insomnia may occur as a result of a separate medical condition.

Examples of secondary insomnia may include:

  • Insomnia due to sleep apnea
  • Insomnia due to a limb movement disorder
  • Insomnia due to a medical condition
  • Insomnia due to substance abuse

A sleep specialist can help you determine which type of insomnia you have by asking you a series of questions about your condition. As the condition may be genetic, your doctor may also inquire about your family history.

  1. Central Disorders of Hypersomnolence

Severe daytime sleepiness is the most common characteristic of a central disorder of hypersomnolence. It occurs when a person is unable to stay awake during the day despite having adequate sleep time and quality the night before. The condition is often confused with fatigue; however, fatigue occurs when a person doesn’t have energy due to lack of sleep. An individual who is sleepy has an increased urge to sleep (10).

According to the latest edition of the International Classification of Sleep disorders, there are eight different types of central disorders of hypersomnolence.

The three most common types are:

  1. Narcolepsy type 1
  2. Narcolepsy type 2
  3. Idiopathic hypersomnia

Patients with a central disorder of hypersomnolence often feel unrefreshed even after a long nap. The condition is not usually caused by a circadian rhythm dysfunction, a sleep related breathing problem or other causes of disrupted nocturnal sleep. Common symptoms may include hallucinations while falling asleep or waking up, sleep paralysis, difficulty awakening, and the sudden loss of muscle expression that is triggered by a strong emotion (10). Examples may include Kleine-Levin Syndrome, behavioral-induced insufficient sleep syndrome, and idiopathic hypersomnia with prolonged sleep time.

  1. Sleep Related Breathing Disorders

Sleep related breathing disorders occur when a person is kept awake due to breathing problems while they try to sleep (8).

Examples include the following:

  • Central apnea syndrome, which occurs when a person doesn’t breathe properly or at all when they sleep due to a central nervous system problem. Examples may include high-altitude periodic breathing or Cheyne-Stokes breathing.
  • Primary central sleep apnea, which occurs when a person stops breathing several times at night while trying to sleep. Common symptoms include insomnia, difficulty breathing during sleep, and being tired during the day.
  • Primary sleep apnea of infancy, which is a respiratory disorder in infants that occurs when they stop breathing for 20 seconds or longer.
  • Obstructive sleep apnea, which occurs when there is an obstruction in a person’s airway that prevents them from breathing. Symptoms include snoring, daytime sleepiness, and several periods in which a person stops breathing during sleep.
  • Sleep-related hypoxemia or hypoventilation syndromes, which is a set of five disorders that occurs when a person has trouble breathing during sleep due to a lung condition or when the central autonomic system fails to control breathing.
  1. Parasomnias

A parasomnia is not necessarily an inability to fall asleep. Instead, it includes unusual behavior that occurs during sleep. Parasomnias may consist of emotions, perceptions, dreaming, and behaviors associated with the functioning of the autonomic nervous system. They may take place as a result of sleep arousal or during the transition between different sleep cycles. Typical examples of parasomnias include night terrors, REM sleep behavior disorder, and recurrent isolated sleep paralysis.

A person with a parasomnia may experience nightmares, hallucinations, sleep talking, or sleep walking. They may try to engage in activities that they normally would while being awake, such as driving, sex, and eating or drinking. Some parasomnias may occur for no reason at all while others are an underlying symptom of another medical condition or psychiatric disorder (8).

  1. Circadian Rhythm Sleep-Wake Disorders

Circadian rhythm sleep-wake disorders occur when a person’s sleep cycle gets thrown off. Symptoms include not being able to fall asleep or wake up at desired times and waking up many times throughout the night. Examples may include the following:

Delayed sleep phase type, which occurs when a person falls asleep much later than they would like and sleeps later than they should. This kind of sleep disorder may be associated with social, professional or behavioral demands such as staying awake late at night for several nights in a row.

Irregular sleep-wake type, which occurs when a person’s circadian rhythm is not well defined.

Jet lag, which occurs when a person throws off their internal body clock by traveling across several time zones. This may also occur in employees who work the night shift.

Irregular or unconventional sleep-wake pattern, which occurs when noise, lighting or other factors disrupt a person’s sleep patterns.

  1. Sleep Related Movement Disorder

Sleep related movement disorders occur when a person’s limbs or muscles move while they are asleep. They may be a result of an underlying neurological disorder or substance abuse. Examples include periodic limb movement disorder and restless leg syndrome.

Restless leg syndrome occurs when a person experiences a strong desire to move their legs. The condition may become painful. Symptoms usually occur at night when a person tries to sleep.

Periodic limb movement disorder is when a person moves their limbs or other body parts unintentionally while they sleep. The movements are often painless but may cause the person to wake up or disturb their sleep. Cramping may occur as a result of the repeated muscle movements. Stretching has been shown to help reduce pain associated with this condition.

Treatment Of Common Sleep Disorders

If you think you may have a sleep disorder, it may be a good idea to see a sleep specialist to determine the best treatment plan for you. Be aware that many prescription sleep aids are addictive and can cause harmful side effects. After receiving a proper sleep disorder diagnosis, you can try to treat your sleep disorder at home by improving your sleep hygiene or taking a natural sleep aid. Treatment options vary from person to person.

In some cases, a sleep disorder may resolve on its own after resetting your circadian rhythm. Start with developing a relaxing bedtime routine that includes meditating with lavender essential oil. If that’s not your thing, make sure you’re sleepy when you go to bed by getting in a good workout earlier in the day. Eat a light dinner, take a warm shower, and spend a few quiet minutes to yourself while listening to some relaxing tunes before hopping in bed.