What is a sleep disorder?

A sleep disorder is broadly defined as a physical or psychological problem that impairs your ability to sleep or causes increased sleepiness during the non-sleeping hours. Everyone can experience problems with sleep from time to time. However, you might have a sleep disorder if:

  • You regularly experience difficulty sleeping
  • You are often tired during the day even though you slept for at least seven hours the night before
  • You have a reduced or impaired ability to perform regular daytime activities

It is important to explore the possible causes of your difficulty with sleeping and/or daytime sleepiness and try to find a solution. One way to evaluate the quality of your sleep and to see whether you have a sleep disorder is to know the characteristics of various sleep disorders and to keep track of your sleep patterns.

Some characteristics of sleep disorders

If you are experiencing one or more of the characteristics below, you might not be getting proper sleep at night. Do you...

  • Fall asleep while driving
  • Struggle to stay awake when inactive, such as when watching television or reading?
  • Have difficulty paying attention or concentrating at work, school, or home?
  • Have performance problems at work or school?
  • Often get told by others that you look sleepy?
  • Have difficulty with your memory?
  • Have slowed responses?
  • Have difficulty controlling your emotions?
  • Need to take naps almost every day?

Keep track of your patterns of sleeplessness

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 doctor. It is important to note that insomnia can be a sleep disorder, or can be a symptom of another problem. Insomnia can be caused by a sleep disorder, a physical disorder, or a psychiatric disorder. Many common sleep problems can be treated with behavioral treatments and an increased attention to proper sleep hygiene. Consult your doctor if you have any concerns about your sleep patterns.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 07/20/2012.


  • NIH Medline Plus. Your Wake-Up Call. (http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/magazine/issues/summer07/articles/summer07pg17-19.html) Accessed 5/16/2013.
  • National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Your Guide to Healthy Sleep. (http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/sleep/healthy_sleep.pdf) Accessed 5/16/2013.
  • American Sleep Apnea Association. Test Yourself. (https://www.sleepapnea.org/learn/sleep-apnea/do-i-have-sleep-apnea/four-sleep-apnea-tests-you-can-take-right-now/) Accessed 5/16/2013.

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