Sleep disorders are conditions that impair your sleep or prevent you from getting restful sleep and, as a result, can cause daytime sleepiness and other symptoms. Everyone can experience problems with sleep from time to time. However, you might have a sleep disorder if:
There are more than 100 million Americans of all ages who are not getting an adequate amount of sleep. Sleep is very important. Not getting enough sleep can have untoward consequences on school and work performance, interpersonal relationships, health and safety.
About 70 million people in the United States suffer from sleep disorders.
There are approximately 80 different types of sleep disorders. The top ones are:
Experts generally recommend that adults sleep at least seven to nine hours per night, although some people require more and others require less.
A recent National Sleep Foundation Sleep in America poll found that adults (ages 18-54) sleep an average of 6.4 hours per night on weekdays and 7.7 hours on weekends. The poll showed a downward trend in sleep time over the past several years. People sleeping less hours tend to use the internet at night or bring work home from the office.
The National Sleep Foundation also reported that older adults (age 55-84) average seven hours of sleep on weekdays and 7.1 hours on weekends. Sleep is most often disturbed by the need to use the bathroom and physical pain or discomfort in older adults.
A downward trend in sleep time has also been observed in children. Optimal sleep time varies by age. An earlier Sleep in America poll found a discrepancy between recommended and actual sleep time in children, with actual sleep time 1.5 to two hours less than recommended. Caffeine consumption caused a loss of three to five hours of sleep and having a television in the bedroom contributed to a loss of two hours of sleep each week in children.
Not getting the proper amount or quality of sleep leads to more than just feeling tired. Sleepiness interferes with cognitive function, which can lead to learning disabilities in children, memory impairment in people of all ages, personality changes and depression.
People who are deprived of sleep experience difficulty making decisions, irritability, have problems with performance, and slower reaction times, placing them at risk for automobile and work-related accidents. Sleep loss can also adversely affect life by contributing to the development of obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
Disorders associated with daytime sleepiness affect females more than males.
Sleep problems can be caused by various factors. Although causes might differ, the end result of all sleep disorders is that the body's natural cycle of slumber and daytime wakefulness is disrupted or exaggerated. Eight factors include:
You might have a sleep disorder if you experience one or more of the following symptoms. Do you:
Insomnia is a sleep disorder where people have difficulty falling or staying asleep. People with insomnia have one or more of the following symptoms:
Insomnia varies in how long it lasts and how often it occurs. About 50% of adults experience occasional bouts of insomnia and one in 10 suffer from chronic insomnia. Insomnia can occur by itself or can be associated with medical or psychiatric conditions. Insomnia can be short-term (acute or adjustment insomnia) or can last a long time (chronic insomnia). It can also come and go, with periods of time when a person has no sleep problems. Acute or adjustment insomnia can last from one night to a few weeks. Insomnia is called chronic when a person has insomnia at least three nights a week for a month or longer.
Short-term or acute insomnia can be caused by life stresses (such as job loss or change, death of a loved one, or moving), an illness, or environmental factors such as light, noise, or extreme temperatures.
Long-term or chronic insomnia (insomnia that occurs at least three nights a week for at least three months or longer) can be caused by factors such as depression, chronic stress and pain or discomfort at night.
A common cause of chronic insomnia is a conditioned emotional response. Thoughts about the sleep problem (e.g., "What if I don’t fall asleep tonight?") and behaviors that develop around the sleep problem (e.g., sleeping in and napping, ruminating in bed) tend to prolong insomnia symptoms.
Sleep apnea is a potentially serious sleep disorder that occurs when a person's breathing is interrupted during sleep. People with untreated sleep apnea stop breathing repeatedly during their sleep.
There are two types of sleep apnea: obstructive and central.
Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a sleep disorder that causes an intense, often irresistible urge to move the legs. This sensation is brought on by resting such as lying down in bed, sitting for prolonged periods such as while driving or at a theatre. RLS typically occurs in the evening, making it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. It can be associated with problems with daytime sleepiness, irritability and concentration. Often, people with RLS want to walk around and shake their legs to help relieve the uncomfortable sensation.
Narcolepsy is a neurological disorder of sleep regulation that affects the control of sleep and wakefulness. People with narcolepsy experience excessive daytime sleepiness and intermittent, uncontrollable episodes of falling asleep during the daytime. These sudden sleep attacks may occur during any type of activity at any time of the day. Some patients with narcolepsy experience sudden muscle weakness with laughter or other emotions.
Narcolepsy usually begins between the ages of 15 and 25, but it can become apparent at any age. In many cases, narcolepsy is undiagnosed and, therefore, untreated.
If you suspect that you may have a sleep disorder, discuss your symptoms with your healthcare provider. He or she can perform a physical exam and help you identify the difficulties you are having with sleep. Keeping a sleep diary for two weeks may be helpful to your healthcare provider. Some illnesses can cause disturbed sleep, so your healthcare provider may order tests to rule out other conditions.
If your healthcare provider suspects that you have a sleep disorder, he or she may refer you to a sleep disorder clinic. A sleep specialist will review your symptoms and may suggest that you undergo a sleep study.
A sleep study or polysomnogram (PSG) is a test that electronically transmits and records specific physical activities while you sleep. A sleep study can be done at home (home sleep apnea testing) for select patients. The recordings become data that is analyzed by a qualified healthcare provider to determine whether or not you have a sleep disorder.
In order to determine if you have a sleep disorder, it is important to pay attention to your sleep habits by keeping a sleep diary and discussing patterns and characteristics of your sleep with your healthcare provider. Many common sleep problems can be treated with behavioral treatments and an increased attention to proper sleep hygiene. Consult your healthcare provider if you have any concerns about your sleep patterns.
There are a variety of treatments recommended by healthcare providers:
Your healthcare provider will recommend treatments based on your unique situation.
Your healthcare provider may recommend some of the following medications and supplements:
Ask your healthcare provider for a referral to a sleep specialist, if necessary.
Avoid the following:
Times vary, and it also depends on what type of sleep disorder you have. Discuss a timeline with your healthcare provider, taking treatments into consideration.
See a healthcare provider about your sleep if it’s disrupting your quality of life.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Sleep disorders may not be deadly, but they affect your quality of life so often and so severely that they can disrupt your thinking, weight, school/work performance, mental health and your general physical health. Common ones like narcolepsy, insomnia, restless legs syndrome and sleep apnea prevent you from getting the long, deep sleep you need to function at your best.
If you’re struggling with your sleep, don’t hesitate to see your healthcare provider. Your health, and therefore your quality of life, depends on good sleep. Practice good sleep hygiene and follow your healthcare provider’s instructions.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 12/23/2020.