Definition of Sleep Disorders

A sleep disorder, or somnipathy, is a medical disorder that can interfere with normal sleep patterns or disrupt a person who is sleeping.

Most people are familiar with the idea that some things might interfere with sleep patterns. Yet, they may not be familiar with the wide range and variety of issues, classifications and symptoms that can be associated with a disorder.

While sleeping problems may seem unimportant to some people, they have the power to reduce your quality of life. In fact, people who don’t get a good night’s sleep on a regular basis may find their physical health starts to deteriorate. Their mental health can also suffer, as depression and anxiety are common symptoms of sleep deprivation.

Sleep Disorder Symptoms

As there are so many different types of sleep disorders, the symptoms can include many varied behaviors. Some of the signs of sleeping disorders include:

  • Snoring
  • Shallow breathing
  • Sleep Paralysis
  • Unusually slow breathing rate
  • Tossing and turning
  • Vivid dreams
  • Violent behavior during sleep
  • Difficulty falling asleep
  • Poor quality sleep
  • Problems sleeping at normal times
  • Sleepwalking
  • Grinding or clenching teeth during sleep

There are plenty of other symptoms that can help to classify a sleeping disorder, but these are the more common ones people notice.

What Causes Sleep Disorders?

There are many different causes of sleep disorders that can be responsible for a range of different symptoms. It is true that some disorders are hereditary. This is especially true for some forms of delayed sleep phase syndrome. Other problems can be a result of physical abnormalities, such as a deviated septum.

Triggers for Children

Sleep disorders in children are far more common than most people realize and are often undiagnosed. Some infant sleep disorders can be linked to parents not allowing a baby or child to learn how to fall asleep on their own without continual parental contact.

Yet, other problems in children’s sleeping patterns can be a result of airway blockages. These might be related to overheating from warm clothing and excessive blankets, or sleeping on the stomach instead of on the back. They may also be related to physiological issues causing sleep apnea.

Specialists researching pediatric sleep disorders in toddlers and children have noted a relationship between ADHD in some children, and autism in others.

Children may also experience episodes of bed-wetting, sleepwalking, and sleep talking. These are all common sleep issues that most children grow out by approximately six or seven years old.

Medical Conditions

Some other medical conditions are known to interrupt sleep, too. Gastric acid reflux, skin irritations, snoring and sleep-disordered breathing are prime triggers for many children and even some adults.

Likewise, epilepsy is also linked to various sleep disorder symptoms, including nocturnal seizures. Yet, studies also show that sleep deprivation can also be a trigger for further seizures, even if the person is awake. Some of the medications prescribed for epileptic patients may also contribute to other sleeping problems that include sleep apnea. In this case, epilepsy can be both a cause and a symptom of sleeping disorders.

Patients with chronic kidney disease may experience sleep disorders very soon after the disease’s onset. Insomnia is a common complaint for patients receiving dialysis. Sleep apnea and increased snoring are also common.

Physical and Mental Health

Many chronic sleep disorders in adolescents and adults have links to depression. However, it’s not quite clear whether the symptoms of depression bring about sleep disorders, or whether sleep issues worsen depression. Either way, the link is clear between the two.

Studies have shown that a person with a Vitamin D deficiency is far more likely to experience symptoms of depression. Other research shows that the link between Vitamin D deficiency and sleep disorders can also trigger increased depression symptoms.

Anxiety and stress are also key factors in the level of sleeping problems a person may experience. Periods of intense stress can cause symptoms that include insomnia and night-terrors.

Studies also show that there is a definite link between sleep deprivation and weight gain. The research found that people who sleep less than 7 hours each night were more likely to be overweight. This risk increased for those who regularly stayed awake after midnight. Unfortunately, obese people will then go on to suffer through even worse sleep disorder symptoms that are related to being so overweight. It becomes a vicious circle.

Nicotine and Alcohol

There are also some sleep disorders caused specifically by smoking cigarettes or drinking alcohol. In both cases, these stimulants can alter the way brain chemistry reacts to normal sleeping patterns, making it very difficult to get a good night’s sleep for many people. Nicotine is a known stimulant, while alcohol is known to affect normal breathing rates.

What Are Different Types of Sleep Disorders?

There isn’t just one single thing that determines if a person has a sleep disorder or not. In fact, it is surprising how many sleep disorders there are. Some may be considered neurological sleep disorders, while others can be classified as psychological sleep disorders. There are others that are brought about by physical condition of a person, and still more thought to be situational, or brought about by recent events, like stress, shift-work, illness or injury.

Here is a list of sleep disorders and their more common symptoms:


Snoring occurs because of a blockage in the air ways while a person is asleep. This is commonly known as ‘sleep apnea’, and it can stop a person from getting enough important deep sleep.


Most people think that insomnia means a person has trouble falling asleep. In reality, it can also mean some people have trouble staying asleep. People with insomnia may also have poor sleep-quality, which leaves them feeling tired during the day.

Night Terrors

Many people joke about ‘night terrors’, but they can be very serious for someone living with this disorder. Night terrors happen in adults and children, and usually involve waking up suddenly from being asleep with a feeling of intense fear or panic. This feeling may or may not involve nightmares.

Night-terrors are a form of parasomnia, which also includes talking in your sleep, sleep walking, or waking up screaming or yelling.

Sleep-Disordered Breathing

There are some sleep-related breathing disorders where the breathing rate of some people gets unusually slow when they’re asleep. In other people, the disorder may include very shallow breathing. This type of disorder is called Hypopnea.

REM Sleep Disorders

The range of REM sleep disorders includes several different symptoms. REM means ‘rapid eye movement’, and it is one of the sleep phases we all go through several times in each sleep cycle. This disorder usually includes a type of unusual behavior, such as acting out things that happen in their dreams. This might be violence or violent behavior, like hitting, kicking, screaming, falling or jumping out of bed, or other sleep-movements.

Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorders

There are some people who have trouble falling asleep at ‘normal’ times. This is called “Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome”. Yet, these people usually sleep just fine when they do finally get to sleep. We might call these people night owls, yet they find it hard to work on a ‘normal’ timetable. This can affect career and quality of life heavily.

Other people with this problem find they get very tired too early in the evening and go to bed at times between 6pm and 8pm. This often means they wake up very early in the morning at times between 2am and 4am.

People who do shift work or are going through jet lag symptoms can also have temporary delayed sleep phase syndrome.


Believe it or not, there is such a thing as sleeping too much. This is known as Kleine-Levin Syndrome or Sleeping Beauty Syndrome, and is a very rare sleep disorder. Excessive sleepiness during the day is not the same as being a bit tired after not getting enough sleep. People with hypersomnia feel the need to take several naps through the day, even after getting plenty of sleep the night before. They often wake up from those naps disoriented, confused and still sleepy.

There is a strong link between clinical depression and hypersomnia. There is also a very strong link with obesity; people with hypersomnia will have lower metabolic rates. As they feel very tired through the day and sleep a lot at night, they will also get much less physical activity through the day than they should.


People who get too much sleep are not the same as those who fall asleep all the time. These people with narcolepsy seem to just collapse where they are standing, or doze off suddenly for no reason. This is considered a chronic sleeping disorder.

Nocturnal Lagophthalmos

There are some people who fall asleep with their eyes open. This is actually a problem with the eyelids that stops them from closing fully. If the eyes remain open while a person is sleeping, it can cause damage to the cornea and reduce sleep quality.

Teeth Grinding

There are many people who involuntarily grind or clench their teeth during sleep. This is called bruxism. Most people with this condition don’t consider it a real sleep disorder, as most people don’t display many symptoms. However, it’s thought to be the most common sleep disorder affecting more than 40 million Americans.

It’s thought that only around 5%-10% of people with this problem actually show symptoms. These are usually a headache, migraines, neck pain, sore jaw, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), and damaged teeth. Teeth grinding is the main cause of tooth loss and receding gums.


Many people are familiar with children that continue to wet the bed at night, even after they’ve been potty-trained. In medical terms, this is called ‘nocturnal enuresis’, which is involuntary urination during sleep. In fact, this is one of the more common reasons parents will take a child to see a doctor. However, most bed-wetting problems are nothing more than a delay in development. This means there is no emotional or physical problem for children under approximately six years old.

It’s believed that by ten years old, only 5% of kids still continue to wet the bed. By adulthood, only 0.5% of adults continue bed-wetting.

The common cause of bed-wetting in children is a delay in normal development. This simply means the brain doesn’t pass on the message that the bladder is full. There is also a strong link to bed-wetting being hereditary.

Children with ADHD are more likely to have issues with enuresis. Adults with constipation or a urinary tract infection may experience bed-wetting issues.

It’s also worth noting that adults who drink too much caffeine or alcohol will also have an increased risk of bed-wetting problems.

International Classification of Sleep Disorders

The International Classification of Sleep Disorders is a resource used by doctors and researchers to help them diagnose, treat and research sleep problems. There are approximately 88 sleep disorders listed in the publication

This publication is very useful for identifying some of the most common or major sleep disorders. It’s also helpful for uncovering symptoms or potential treatments in people showing symptoms for rare, severe or life threatening sleeping disorders.

Sleep Disorder Statistics

The prevalence of sleep disorders in infants, babies and children is far higher than most people realize. It’s estimated that sleep apnea affects more than 40% of adults who snore, but only 18% of infants who snore.

Studies also show that between 50% - 80% of patients suffering from stroke or heart failure also have breathing-related sleep disorders. This doesn’t include the more than 20% of patients with asthma, arthritis or diabetes who report frequent insomnia symptoms.

Insomnia is the most common form of sleep disorder. Although it is commonly associated with the elderly, anyone can experience insomnia at some point. Stress is linked to difficulty sleeping, as is chronic pain.

Women are more likely than men to experience insomnia, with 26% of women showing symptoms and only 17% of men.

80% of people with depression suffer from insomnia.

Alarmingly, 94% of travelers experience symptoms of jet lag. While this is a temporary disorder, recovery is thought to take one day for every time-zone crossed.

Diagnosing Sleep Disorders

If a doctor suspects a sleep disorder may be present, the patient is referred to a specialist for further diagnosis. Sleep specialists prefer to use a series of tests to work out which sleep disorder may be present.

Depending on the symptoms shown, tests might also include neurological examinations. This may include overnight sleeping studies where a specialist can monitor any activity or symptoms. Doctors will monitor brain-wave readings and breathing rate during sleep.

Some patients aren’t sure whether they have a disorder or not. This is where online tests can be helpful in figuring out what the problem might be. Taking a sleep disorder quiz or answering a simple questionnaire can help narrow down what might be wrong before visiting a doctor.

Treatments for Sleep Disorders

The treatments used to correct sleeping disorders are many and varied, and are based on the actual symptoms displayed. While some problems can be very effectively treated using natural remedies, other problems may require medication or even surgery.

Specialists agree that a patient with obesity-related sleep apnea can reduce symptoms with 10%–15% weight loss. An increase in physical activity can further stimulate body chemistry to help reduce some symptoms of insomnia.

Some people report very good results with acupuncture, while other practitioners show results using light therapy.

Traditional sleep specialist centers or institutes tend to prefer medication to treat more severe disorders. While getting the right diagnosis using specialist help can be a good idea, there are some excellent books that can help with very effective solutions to some sleeping disorders.

However, for patients who prefer more natural options, the ZEO Personal Sleep Coach can be an excellent way to monitor the quality and quantity of your sleep. It’s also great for helping to figure out which factors could be affecting your sleep, and working out how to improve those things.