The Complete List of Sleep Disorders And Their Symptoms

August 28, 2017 |


Research shows there are anywhere from 80 to 100 different types of sleep disorders (1)(2). Many of them go undiagnosed, leaving thousands of Americans struggling to find the right treatment. Sleep disorders that aren’t addressed may lead to health problems, such as decreased alertness, stroke, diabetes, depression, obesity, high blood pressure and other chronic conditions (3).

Symptoms of a sleep disorder include daytime sleepiness, skin or vision problems, decreased alertness, weight gain, and mood disorders such as becoming over emotional or overreacting. If you think you have a sleep disorder, it’s important to get a proper diagnosis to determine the appropriate treatment method. Here is a complete list of sleep disorders and their symptoms.

Sleep Disorders List

A sleep disorder refers to a group of conditions that regularly affect sleep. According to a 2012 study, sleep disorders are grouped into the following eight categories (4):

  1. Insomnias
  2. Sleep-related breathing disorders
  3. Hypersomnias of the central origin
  4. Circadian rhythm sleep disorders
  5. Parasomnias
  6. Sleep-related movement disorders
  7. Isolated symptoms, unresolved issues, and apparently normal factors
  8. Miscellaneous or other sleep disorders


Insomnia is a condition characterized by difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep. It includes periods of being awake at night or not getting enough sleep to properly function the next day. Insomnia can be a symptom of an underlying medical condition, or it can be a stand-alone disease. Most of the time, a person who is diagnosed with insomnia will be categorized by one of its subcategories.

Doctors who make an insomnia diagnosis consider several symptoms, such as difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep, total hours of sleep each night, and sleep quality. Other factors taken into consideration include how well you prepare for sleep such as the amount of time you dedicate to sleep and how the lack of sleep impairs your daytime activities.

Most people with insomnia complain that their sleep is of poor quality or they don’t experience enough restorative sleep even if they get what is considered a reasonable amount of it. A person needs to meet specific criteria to be diagnosed with an insomnia disorder, including the following (5):

  • Difficulty falling asleep
  • Difficulty staying asleep
  • Waking up too early
  • Inadequate restorative sleep
  • Poor sleep quality
  • Sleep difficulty that occurs despite proper sleeping terms
  • Daytime complaints that are due to poor sleep

Insomnia categories are often broken down into the following subcategories (5):

  • Primary insomnia
  • Insomnia caused by a mental condition
  • Psychophysiological insomnia
  • Paradoxical insomnia
  • Idiopathic insomnia
  • Insomnia due to a periodic limb movement disorder such as restless leg syndrome
  • Insomnia due to sleep apnea
  • Insomnia caused by a medical condition
  • Insomnia caused by drug or substance abuse

Insomnia categories are divided into primary and secondary subgroups. Primary insomnia involves both natural and unnatural factors, but they are not related to another condition. Secondary insomnia is due to another medical condition, such as substance abuse or another sleep disorder, such as sleep apnea. According to a 2004 report, the term comorbid insomnia may be used to distinguish primary insomnia from other sleep disorders, substance abuse problems, and mental or physical health conditions (6).

According to the International Classification of Diseases, primary insomnia can be divided into the following groups (5):

  • Adjustment insomnia: occurs when the insomnia is due to a specific mental, physical or environmental stressor. This type of insomnia only lasts a few weeks and goes away when the stressor does.
  • Psychophysiological insomnia: occurs for at least a month and is due to learned sleep prevention associations, such as obsessing over the inability to sleep.
  • Paradoxical insomnia: occurs when patients experience little to no sleep without any real problems or impairment to daytime functioning.
  • Idiopathic insomnia: occurs when there is long term insomnia that dates back to childhood. This type of insomnia is persistent with few periods of remission and is not associated with any factors.
  • Inadequate sleep hygiene: a disorder that occurs when there is stimulating activity before bedtime (alcohol, cigarette or caffeine abuse) that disrupts sleep quality.
  • Behavioral insomnia of childhood: a self-limiting sleep disorder that may occur when a caretaker forces sleep limits on a child, such as when a child is rocked to sleep, watches television until they fall asleep, or they require certain environmental factors to fall asleep.

Sleep-Related Breathing Disorders

Sleep-related breathing disorders occur when there is disordered ventilation during sleep (5). Examples include central apnea syndromes where the central nervous system dysfunctions and causes an impairment in the respiratory process. Other sleep apnea conditions are associated with environmental factors or other medical conditions, such as periodic high-altitude breathing or Cheyne-Stokes breathing pattern (5).

Primary central sleep apnea occurs when a person stops breathing during sleep. Symptoms include insomnia, difficulty breathing during sleep, and excessive daytime sleepiness. To receive a primary central sleep apnea diagnosis, the patient must experience five or more episodes each hour during sleep on a sleep test that measures brain waves called a polysomnography.

Cheyne-Stokes breathing occurs when the patient alternates between periods of increased and decreased breathing. It only occurs in non-rapid eye movement and not during REM sleep. This type of sleep apnea is commonly seen in medical disorders such as renal failure, cerebrovascular conditions, and heart failure. High altitude periodic breathing occurs when a person cycles between periods of increased and decreased breathing that lasts for between 12 and 34 seconds (5). This type of sleep apnea usually occurs at elevations greater than 7600 meters.

Long term opioid users tend to develop a secondary type of central sleep apnea in which the respiratory system is depressed by prolonged drug use. Infants may develop primary sleep apnea as a developmental pattern, or it may be due to an underlying medical condition. Babies need to experience breathing pauses of 20 seconds or longer to be diagnosed (5).

Obstructive sleep apnea disorders occur when an obstruction in the airway prevents a person from breathing. In adults, obstructive sleep apnea occurs when a person stops breathing repetitively or when there is partial airway blockage. Common symptoms include snoring, sleep disruption, insomnia and excessive daytime sleepiness. In children, obstructive sleep apnea is similar to that of adults but may not occur at such a high rate. While adults need five episodes per hour of interrupted breathing to be diagnosed, children only need one or two.

sleep-related breathing disorders

Hypersomnia of Central Origin

People with hypersomnia disorders commonly complain of daytime sleepiness, but it’s not due to disturbed sleep at night or a dysfunctional circadian cycle. Daytime sleepiness occurs when a person has trouble staying awake or alert, which causes them to fall into unintended periods of sleep, such as narcolepsy.

Hypersomnia has different meanings and is commonly used in different classifications. It can be used to describe a condition characterized by daytime sleepiness, as a symptom of other medical conditions, or as a term that describes prolonged sleep periods of less than nine hours per night. A person can be diagnosed with other sleep disorders along with hypersomnia, but they need to be properly treated before a hypersomnia diagnosis is made.

Recurrent hypersomnia can be broken down into two subcategories: menstrual-related hypersomnia and Kleine-Levin Syndrome. Menstrual-related hypersomnia occurs when a woman experiences hypersomnia due to her menstruation cycle. It typically lasts one week. Kleine-Levin Syndrome is characterized by sleepiness due to hypersexuality, mood changes or binge eating.

Idiopathic hypersomnia due to long term sleep is a classic form of hypersomnia that occurs when a person sleeps more than 10 hours. It is characterized by excessive sleepiness with unintentional naps that aren’t restorative. Idiopathic hypersomnia is still widely misunderstood.

Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorders

Circadian rhythm sleep disorders are grouped differently from other sleep disorders because they share a common psychological process. There is a dysfunction between a person’s internal sleep pattern and the sleep patterns that are considered socially normal. A person with a circadian rhythm sleep disorder may not be able to sleep as much as they need or when they need to. They wake up and fall asleep at undesired times, which results in a chronic state of sleepiness.

Most circadian rhythm sleep disorders occur when there is a disruption in a person’s REM and non-REM cycles. Delayed sleep is most common in adolescents. It involves a delay in the time it takes to wake up or fall asleep. Advanced sleep phase types are more common in older adults. They are caused by an imbalance in the homeostatic component of sleep (5). It may occur when a person goes to bed or wakes up later than they should due to social or professional events.

Irregular sleep-wake disorder occurs mostly in older adults and is associated with the inability to synchronize individual agents, including social activities. Jet lag disorder is characterized by a disrupted sleep cycle due to traveling across several time zones. Shift work disorders can occur when a person stays awake during the night to work a shift. Exposure to light, noise and other factors late at night can disrupt a person’s circadian cycle. In other cases, circadian rhythm disorders are due to an underlying medical condition.


Parasomnia sleep disorders are characterized by dreaming and certain perceptions of the autonomic nervous system. They are not necessarily due to sleep abnormalities such as going to bed or waking up too early. Instead, they are an undesirable state of sleep that occurs during sleep. Parasomnias may be due to dysfunctions of the central nervous system that causes arousal and disrupts sleep. They often occur along with other sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea. In some cases, patients may experience several different parasomnias at the same time.

Confusional arousals occur when there is mental or behavioral confusion during sleep. They are common in children and can occur during daytime naps or at night. Sleepwalking may result from an altered state of consciousness and sudden arousals during slow wave sleep. Sleep terrors are when a person cries or screams during slow wave sleep. The autonomic nervous system activates them out of intense fear. Sleepwalking and night terrors may occur at the same time (5).

REM sleep behavior disorder occurs when there is an abnormality during REM sleep that results in sleep disruption or injury. This may include physically acting out violent dreams. It commonly occurs in patients with Parkinson’s disease or narcolepsy. Recurrent isolated sleep paralysis occurs when a person cannot move their muscles when they first wake up. Breathing is usually not affected, although hallucinations or panic may also occur.

Nightmare disorder is when a person suffers from recurring nightmares during REM sleep. Individuals who have been victims of sexual or physical abuse may experience sleep-related dissociative disorder, which involves a disruption in a person’s perception of their environment (5). Sleep-related groaning occurs when a person groans in their sleep without knowing it. The cause is unknown (5).

Sleep Related Movement Disorders

Sleep related movement disorders occur when a person is kept awake by simple movements. Examples include restless legs syndrome and periodic limb movement disorder. They appear to be due to a neurological or other medical disorder.

During restless legs syndrome, a person experiences a strong urge to move their legs, especially at night. Painful sensations may accompany it. Periodic limb disorder is when a person performs highly repetitive movements of their limbs during sleep. As a result, sleep related cramps may occur.

Isolated Symptoms, Unresolved Issues, and Apparently Normal Factors

This section includes sleep disorders that are due to abnormal lengths of sleeping as well as snoring. Long sleepers are people who sleep more than 10 hours during a 24 hour period while short sleepers sleep for less than five hours a day. A snoring diagnosis is not always dangerous to your health, but it can keep your bed partner awake.

Sleep talking and sleep starts (jerking movements in your sleep) are also in this category. Foot tremors, muscle cramps, a falling sensation, and painful erections in men during sleep may also occur.

Other sleep disorders may be due to following conditions:

  • Environmental factors that disrupt sleep
  • Headaches
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Heartburn
  • Anxiety, depression or mood disorders

If you experience any of the above symptoms, or if you think you may have a sleep disorder, you are not alone. As many as 70 million Americans have trouble sleeping (7). Proper diagnosis is an important first step in treating your condition. There are several approaches to successfully treating sleep disorders, which can include:

  • Prescription medication (Not without side effects)
  • Natural sleep aids
  • Lifestyle choices 

Treatment for sleep disorders can vary depending on the severity of the condition. If left untreated, sleep disorders can develop into serious health problems, including depression, anxiety, irritability, hypertension, or cardiovascular issues.