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August 20, 2021 9 min read

In an ideal world, you would fall asleep as soon as your head hits your pillow. There’s no laying in bed wide awake for hours counting how many times the ceiling fan turns. There’s no tossing and turning trying to find a comfortable position. There’s no feeling so stressed you can’t get tired. Instead, you fall asleep instantly, sleep soundly throughout the night, and wake up feeling good as new. But unfortunately, that’s not how bedtime usually goes, especially if you suffer from sleep problems. Sleep problems are common. We all know how important getting enough sleep is, but when you suffer from constant sleep problems that keep you up throughout the night, achieving that good night’s rest isn’t so feasible. Which is why it’s so important to be aware of the various types of sleep disorders so you can find the proper treatment.

In this article, we will be discussing common sleep disorders, symptoms of them, and how to go about treatment. The first step in treating a sleep condition is recognizing that you have one. So if you’re having trouble staying asleep or falling asleep, read this article to identify if you’re suffering from a sleep disorder.

What is a Sleep Disorder?

So, do I have a sleep disorder? First, let’s discuss what exactly a sleep disorder is. A sleep disorder is a condition that affects your quality of sleep. This includes how long you sleep, how much time it takes you to fall asleep, and how well you sleep. A sleep disorder will typically affect all of those. Not getting enough sleep due to a sleep disorder will impact a person’s ability to function properly during the day. A lack of sleep can also cause a myriad of health problems, like obesity, heart disease, and high blood pressure. A sleep disorder can often be the side effect of a mental health condition, such as depression or anxiety.

People with sleep issues will most likely experience at least one of the following signs:

  • Extreme tiredness during the day
  • Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Irregular sleep and wake up cycle
  • Unexpected behaviors that impact your sleep

If you suffer from one or more of those, you likely have a sleep disorder. The next step is identifying which one.

Signs of a sleep problem infographic

Common Sleep Disorders

There are various types of sleep disorders that affect between 50 to 70 million U.S. adults. The most common sleep disorder is insomnia. Other common sleep disorders include: sleep apnea, narcolepsy, RLS, parasomnias, shift worker disorder, and sleep related breathing disorders. While all sleep conditions impact your overall quality of sleep, they all have different symptoms. Knowing these different symptoms can help you identify exactly which sleep disorder you suffer from so that you can find the proper treatment. Below, we will discuss these different types of sleep disorders, including symptoms and treatment.


Insomnia is the most common sleep disorder with ⅓ of adults experiencing symptoms. Insomnia impacts your ability to fall asleep or stay asleep. Insomnia can either be transient or chronic. Transient insomnia happens after a difficult life event that triggers stress. Chronic insomnia is if you have a long-term history of difficulty sleeping. You have chronic insomnia if you have sleep issues for at least three nights a week for three weeks or longer.

There are various causes of insomnia, such as:

  • Stress
  • Poor sleep hygiene
  • Travel or work schedule
  • Medical conditions
  • Hormonal changes
  • Eating too much food late at night


If you think you may be suffering from insomnia, you will experience the following symptoms:

  • You have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep at night
  • You can’t get enough sleep to feel well-rested
  • You consistently wake up early
  • You experience excessive daytime tiredness
  • You’re more irritable or anxious
  • You suffer from headaches and tense muscles

If you find yourself experiencing one or more of those symptoms, you likely have insomnia. Insomnia is detrimental to your overall health and wellbeing, so it’s imperative to treat it correctly.


When searching for insomnia treatment, you first want to make lifestyle changes. Reducing stress or addressing other medical conditions can help to fix your insomnia without needing further treatment. However, if making lifestyle changes doesn’t work, you will want to try another course of treatment, such as:

  • Relaxation techniques such as muscle relaxation and breathing exercises
  • Medication to treat anxiety, like antidepressants
  • Cognitive behavior therapy which aims to improve your mental health
  • Sleep restriction to limit the amount of time you spend in bed throughout the day
  • Stimulus control therapy which eliminates factors that condition your mind to resist sleep

It is important to consult with a doctor to find the correct course of treatment as insomnia varies for each person.

Sleep apnea

Sleep apnea is a sleep breathing disorder that causes your airway to become blocked. People with sleep apnea will stop breathing throughout the night and will often wake up choking or gasping for air. Since sleep apnea causes you to wake up often throughout the night due to a lack of oxygen, it can lead to excessive daytime tiredness. There are two types of sleep apnea: obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea is due to a physical obstruction of the airway from large tonsils, fluid buildup, or genetic conditions. Central sleep apnea happens when the brain stops sending breathing signals which causes choking.


You likely have sleep apnea if you suffer from one or more of the following symptoms:

  • You snore loudly
  • You wake up gasping for air or choking
  • You wake up throughout the night with a dry or sore throat
  • You have excessive daytime tiredness
  • You have frequent headaches and are irritable

Sleep apnea is a serious and life-threatening sleep disorder so it’s crucial to see a doctor for treatment.


There are various ways to go about treating sleep apnea, including:

  • CPAP therapy, which involves a CPAP machine that keeps your airway open as you sleep with prongs in your nose
  • Oral appliances, which are designed to keep your throat open. They open your throat by bringing your jaw forward to relieve snoring
  • Surgery can be done to remove or shrink tissue or reposition your jaw. Surgery should only be done if other treatments have not worked.
  • Sleep apnea is often a result of being overweight so losing weight can help to relieve symptoms

Other lifestyle changes, such as exercising, avoiding alcohol and sleeping medication, not smoking, and sleeping on your side, can also help to relieve sleep apnea symptoms.


Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder that causes you to fall asleep at any time throughout the day. Narcolepsy is caused by a lack of the brain chemical hypocretin which regulates sleep. People with narcolepsy can fall asleep while eating, talking, working, or driving. Narcolepsy can affect your work and social life and can cause serious accidents.


You may suffer from narcolepsy if you experience the following symptoms:

  • You fall asleep suddenly without warning
  • You are very drowsy during the day
  • You suffer from sleep paralysis
  • You experience cataplexy, which is a sudden loss of muscle control
  • You have disrupted nighttime sleep
  • You suffer from hallucinations while falling asleep or waking up


There is no official tratament for narcolepsy but there are some things you can do to help you stay awake during the day. Narcolepsy differs for every person, but in some cases symptoms improve with age. Here are some things you can do to relieve narcolepsy symptoms:

  • Take short naps throughout the day to reduce daytime sleepiness
  • Improve sleep hygiene
  • Avoid alcohol and other sedatives
  • Exercise and eat healthy
  • Take medication, such as modafinil and armodafinil


Restless Leg Syndrome, or RLS, is a sleep disorder that causes uncomfortable feelings in the legs. These feelings can cause you to continuously move your legs while sleeping. People with RLS may also experience itching, crawling, aching, or burning in the legs. Walking or moving your legs can relieve RLS symptoms. However, symptoms worsen when you’re inactive, like when you’re sleeping. This can disrupt your sleep and cause fatigue.


You may have RLS if:

  • You have strong urges to move your legs
  • You experience a crawling or itching feeling in your legs
  • Your symptoms worsen when you’re inactive or at night
  • Your symptoms improve when you’re walking or stretching


There are various treatments to relieve RLS symptoms, such as:

  • Improve sleep hygiene
  • Exercise regularly
  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine
  • Pneumatic pressure therapy, which is a compression device that increases blood flow to the legs
  • Massages and hot baths
  • Medication, such as a dietary supplement or dopamine promoter

Examples of sleep disorders infographic


Parasomnias are unusual behaviors one does before falling asleep, while asleep, or during periods of being asleep and awake. Parasomnias can happen as the brain goes in and out of sleep, rapid eye movement (REM), and non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep cycles. There are various types of parasomnias. NREM-related parasomnia happens during the first stage of someone’s sleep cycle and can cause confusional arousals, sleeping walking, and night terrors. Someone with REM-related parasomnia will experience nightmares, sleep paralysis, or REM sleep behavior disorder.


You may suffer from parasomnias if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • You have difficulty sleeping through the night
  • You are extremely tired during the day
  • You wake up confused or disoriented
  • You find strange cuts or bruises on your body
  • A partner or roommate tells you unusual movements, expressions, or vocalizations you did while sleeping


In order to treat parasomnias, you have to determine what triggers it. Some treatments for parasomnias include:

  • Practice good sleep hygiene
  • Avoid alcohol
  • Medication, such as clonazepam and melatonin to control REM sleep disorders
  • Take safety precautions to keep your environment safe, such as removing dangerous items from nightstand and using floor pads to prevent injuries

Shift worker disorder

Shift worker disorder is a condition that impacts people who work nights, early mornings, or rotating shifts. This can cause someone to be excessively tired or even try to sleep during their shifts. Shift worker disorder is circadian rhythm sleep disorder, which disrupts the sleep-wake cycle. Shift worker disorder impacts people in different ways depending on what time they work. For example, someone who works nights may suffer from different symptoms than someone who works early morning shifts.


You may have shift worker disorder if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • You have difficulty sleeping
  • You struggle with work performance
  • Your mood fluctuates
  • You have increased health problems
  • You experience fatigue, low energy, and low libido
  • You have frequent headaches


There are various ways you can go about treating shift worker disorder, such as:

  • Reduce light exposure from the way home during a night shift
  • Maintain bedtime rituals even on days off
  • Practice good sleep hygiene
  • Reduce distractions when sleeping, such as outside noises and bright light
  • Avoid long commutes
  • Get enough sleep on your days off
  • Plan a nap before a night shift

Sleep-related breathing disorders

Someone with a sleep related breathing disorder will experience difficulty properly breathing while sleeping. Chronic snoring can also be a side effect of sleep related breathing disorders. There are various types of sleep related breathing disorders, such as obstructive sleep apnea, central sleep apnea, snoring, catathrenia, and more.


You may have a sleep related breathing disorder if you experience the following symptoms:

  • You experience extreme daytime tiredness
  • You grind your teeth at night
  • You wake up choking or gasping for air
  • You wake up with headaches
  • You have recent weight gain


In order to treat sleep related breathing disorders, you can try the following:

  • Weight loss
  • Exercise
  • Avoid smoking
  • Avoid sleeping on your back

Positive Airway Pressure (PAP) devices, which pump pressurized air into your airway to promote regular breathing

Photo of woman who cannot sleep

How to Recognize Common Sleep Disorders

It’s crucial to properly treat a sleep disorder in order to improve a person’s quality of sleep. The first step in treating a sleep problem is understanding common sleep disorders. If you feel you’re suffering from a sleep problem, discuss your symptoms with a healthcare provider. The doctor may perform a physical exam and have you keep a sleep diary to identify exactly which disorder you suffer from. They may also advise you to go to a sleep disorder clinic or have a sleep study done. Overall, it’s important to pay close attention to your sleep habits so that you can find the correct course of treatment.

Wrapping Up

Getting a good night’s rest is important for many reasons. It’s how we function properly throughout the day and stay healthy. Sleep problems can be caused by a variety of sleep disorders, from insomnia to parasomnias. If you’re experiencing sleep problems, check out the MedCline blog for more sleep tips. MedCline offers a variety of products, such as a shoulder pain relief system, which is a pillow designed specifically to help you sleep better by taking pressure off your shoulder. MedCline also has an acid reflux relief system that can help reduce chest pain while sleeping. Sleep problems should not be taken lightly, take the proper steps to treat them today.