Sleep disorders are conditions that keep an individual from attaining enough sleep, or restful sleep, on a regular basis.

Most individuals experience sleeping problems on occasion due to hectic lifestyles or stress from work. These normal sleep disturbances are not uncommon. However, when sleep problems begin to occur regularly and interfere with daily life, they may indicate a sleeping disorder.

What Is a Sleep Disorder?

Sleep disorders are conditions that keep an individual from attaining enough sleep, or restful sleep, on a regular basis. Sleep disorders are so common in the United States that more than 75 percent of Americans between the ages of 20 and 59 years report having sleeping difficulties regularly. These can be caused by a health problem or large amounts of stress.

A sleep disorder could be a symptom of another underlying medical condition. If so, the treatment of the medical condition usually results in the disappearance of the sleep disorder.

A lack of sleep can have a negative impact on energy, mood, concentration and overall health. It can also affect your work or school performance, relationships and impair normal, daily activities. When left untreated, the negative effects of a sleep disorder can result in harmful consequences to your health.

Types of Sleep Disorders

There are numerous sleeping disorders with their own set of symptoms. The most common sleeping disorders include insomnia, hypersomnolence, circadian rhythm disorder, narcolepsy, nightmare disorder, REM and non-REM sleep disorders.


Insomnia is sleep disorder characterized by difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep. It can be caused by mental and medical conditions, poor sleep habits, medications or drugs and genetics. Insomnia may cause you to experience symptoms like:

  • Difficulty falling asleep
  • Upset stomach
  • Waking up often during the night with difficulty going back to sleep
  • Waking up too early in the morning
  • Feeling tired upon waking on your own, without alarm


Hypersomnolence disorder or hypersomnia is characterized as excessive daytime sleepiness or an extreme amount of time spent sleeping. If you have this condition, you may have serious trouble staying awake during the day and can fall asleep at any given time, such as at work, during a meal or while driving.

Symptoms related to hypersomnolence include:

  • Other sleep-related problems
  • Lack of energy
  • Trouble thinking clearly

Causes of hypersomnolence are diverse and may include:

  • Other sleep disorders, such as narcolepsy and sleep apnea
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Genetics
  • Depression
  • Drug and alcohol use or addiction
  • Brain disease or injury
  • Being overweight

Circadian Rhythm Sleep-Wake Disorder

Circadian rhythm is the phrase describing your internal body clock, which regulates a 24-hour biological cycle. The circadian rhythm is characterized by patterns of brainwave activity, hormone production, cell regeneration and other biological activities connected to certain times throughout your 24-hour cycle. This rhythm can be off by just a few hours, keeping you up late every night. This sleep-wake disorder can also cause your internal clock to be half a day off, making daytime work or responsibilities difficult.

Circadian rhythm disorder symptoms may include:

  • Difficulty getting to sleep and staying asleep
  • Lack of restorative sleep
  • Poor concentration
  • Headaches and stomach distress
  • Impaired concentration and problem-solving abilities

A few causes of circadian rhythm disorders include recurring shift work, time zone changes, prescription medication side effects and medical or mental health problems.


If you have narcolepsy, you likely cannot control incidents of falling asleep during the daytime. These occurrences of falling asleep can occur during any activity at any time. There is no certain cure for narcolepsy but medications can improve symptoms. Narcolepsy is a neurological sleeping condition that includes symptoms that include:

  • Excessive sleepiness
  • Sleep paralysis
  • Hallucinations
  • Cataplexy or weakness

Related Topic: Narcolepsy cure

Nightmare Disorder

Nightmares are a normal thing to experience and are different from a nightmare disorder, which is rather rare. Nightmare disorder is when an individual has regularly occurring nightmares that cause distress, disrupt sleep, hinder daytime functioning or create a fear of going to sleep.  Occurrences are usually short-lived, causing you to wake. Returning to sleep can be difficult.

Nightmares are only considered a disorder if you experience these resulting symptoms:

  • Poor concentration
  • Daytime sleepiness or fatigue
  • Distress about nightmare or future nightmare during daytime
  • Behavior problems related to bedtime or fear of the dark

REM Sleep Behavior Disorder

During the stage of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, you have a natural paralysis that keeps you still and quiet during even the most intense of dreams. If you live with a REM sleep behavior disorder, this paralysis usually absent, permitting you to act out your dreams. These dreams, with REM sleep behavior disorder, are usually vivid, intense and violent. Behaviors during a dream in these individuals would include:

  • Talking or yelling
  • Punching, kicking or other fighting motions
  • Sitting up
  • Jumping from bed
  • Grabbing objects

Depending on your surroundings, REM sleep behavior disorder can be a dangerous condition.

Non-Rapid Eye Movement Sleep Arousal Disorders

If you experience a non-rapid eye movement sleep arousal disorder (NREM), you may be partially asleep and partially awake during an episode because you have not yet made it to REM sleep. This sleeping disorder refers to the repeated episodes of incomplete awakening from sleep, resulting in sleepwalking and sleep terrors. These episodes usually happen early in the night, before a chance to get into deep sleep. If you have this condition, you may be confused and disoriented if awakened during an occurrence and have no memory of your dreams or sleep behavior.

NREM sleep arousal occurrences usually begin with a panicky scream and are followed by physical signs of fear, fast breathing and sweating. It is difficult to wake or comfort a person while they are experiencing an incident.

Restless Leg Syndrome

Though doctors do not know a specific cause for restless leg syndrome, it is suspected that genetics play a role. Nearly half of all individuals diagnosed with this condition have a family member with the disorder.

Other factors associated with restless leg syndrome include:

  • Chronic diseases, including iron deficiency, Parkinson’s disease, kidney failure and diabetes
  • Medications including anti-nausea drugs, antipsychotics, antidepressants and cold and allergy medications
  • Pregnancy, especially in the last trimester
  • Alcohol use and sleep deprivation

Restless leg syndrome is more common after age 45 and twice as likely to be diagnosed in women than in men.


Several factors can influence sleepwalking, though it is mostly hereditary. If your parent or sibling sleepwalks, you are 10 percent more likely to be a sleepwalker. It is common for identical twins to be sleepwalkers. There are other factors that may be the cause of sleepwalking, including:

  • Sleep deprivation
  • Irregular sleep schedule
  • Stress and anxiety
  • Alcohol or certain drug use
  • Medical conditions, such as fever, heartburn, heart rhythm issues, asthma at night, sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome

Causes of Sleep Disorders

Many underlying issues can lead to sleep disorders, though each disorder can be triggered by different factors. Before being diagnosed for a sleep disorder, you must recognize the symptoms and signs that may have led to the sleep problem.

Sleep deprivation, depression and dehydration can lead to sleep disorders in both children and adults that create difficulty in everyday life. These factors cause severe fatigue and difficulty focusing on tasks at work, school or even daily routine chores. Without treatment, the disorders can take a toll on your personal and professional duties.

How Are Sleep Disorders Diagnosed?

After a physical exam, the doctor will draw conclusions about your symptoms based on the exam and your medical history. Sometimes, further testing is necessary. Some of these tests include:

  • Electroencephalogram: electrical activity in the brain is measured and any potential problems associated with this activity.
  • Genetic blood testing: used to diagnose other health conditions that might be causing sleeping problems.
  • Polysomnography: sleep study that evaluates oxygen levels, brain waves, and body movements to determine their behavior during disrupted sleep.

These tests can be invaluable in determining the best treatment for a sleep disorder.

Risk Factors for Sleep Disorders

There is no definitive cause of sleep disorders, however, there are a variety of sleep disorder risk factors that could impact your quality of sleep. You are more likely to suffer from a sleep disorder if you:

  • Are female
  • Are over the age of 60
  • Have depression or anxiety
  • Work night shifts
  • Travel long distances frequently
  • Are under high amounts of stress

Sleep Disorders Statistics

Between 50 and 70 million adults in the United States currently suffer from a sleep disorder. Additional sleep disorder statistics include:

  • Insomnia is still the most common sleep disorder, affecting about 30 percent of adults with short-term insomnia, and around 10 percent suffering from long-term insomnia.
  • In 55 percent of individuals with REM behavior disorder, the cause is not known and in 45 percent of individuals, the cause is linked to alcohol or drug withdrawal, or to the use of antidepressants.
  • According to the National Sleep Foundation, up to 40 percent of individuals in the United States have symptoms of hypersomnolence from time-to-time.

If you or a loved one needs help overcoming a drug or alcohol addiction and a sleep disorder, The Recovery Village can help. You can receive help from one of the facilities located throughout the country. To learn more about co-occurring disorders treatment, call The Recovery Village to speak with a representative.

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Editor – Camille Renzoni
Cami Renzoni is a creative writer and editor for The Recovery Village. As an advocate for behavioral health, Cami is certified in mental health first aid and encourages people who face substance use disorders to ask for the help they deserve. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Krisi Herron, LCDC
Krisi Herron is an Adjunct Psychology Professor, a Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor and a freelance writer who contributes to several mental health blogs. Read more
Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.