Common Sleep Disorders

Sleep disorders can be embodied and diagnosed in many ways. Basically, it refers to problems in sleep quality, quantity and timing, which could directly damage sleepers’ daytime function. Sleep disorders are often the result of medical conditions or other mental health conditions, and then conversely worsen these conditions. There are more than 100 different kinds of sleeping and waking disorders, and understanding which kind you are having and its possible causes through symptoms can help find corresponding treatments to alleviate the pain.


Insomnia is the most common sleep disorder, with about 30% of American adults affected by short-term insomnia  and 10% by chronic insomnia.  

People who are bothered by it usually have difficulty in falling or staying asleep even in a comfortable environment and bear bad quality of sleep which fail to leave them refreshed when they wake up.

Causes of insomnia are numerous, including: stress, medical conditions, mental disorders, medication, habits and lifestyles(could be related to circadian rhythm ), and even other sleep disorders. These factors can be not only trigger to insomnia, but also worsened by it.

When it comes to treatments for insomnia, the most frequently mentioned ones will be medications and cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia(CBT-i)  that uses no drugs. While people often hesitate to take sleep-inducing medications because of the potential side effects, they can be so effective for solving sleep problems in a short term and are especially recommended when behavioral treatments are unsuccessful. Nevertheless, CBT-i is still believed the first-line treatment for insomnia. As it involves only behavioral actions like sleep education and hygiene, stimulus control and Sleep restriction and compression, people never need to worry about any health risk related to medication.


Narcolepsy is a chronic disorder of hypersomnia that can profoundly affect, or we can say, damage the quality of life and livelihood.

Excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS) is the most-known symptom of narcolepsy, which means sleepiness persists during daytime even if on had enough amount of sleep last night. But there are more. Sleepers bothered by narcolepsy could also encounter sleep paralysis, cataplexy, hypnagogic hallucinations and more.

Narcolepsy is not curable and considered to be a lifelong condition. But there are treatments to improve the symptom. Both behavioral approaches and medications can be used to alleviate narcolepsy, and it’s up to individual conditions and preference to choose which one. Common behavioral approaches includes sleep hygiene, healthy habits and lifestyles, more reasonable sleep plan(reduce sleep at day) and so on. Perhaps this is a long-term strategy and acquires more patience, but it will finally do good. For those who prefer medications, modafinil, methylphenidate, pitolisant and solriamfetol are commonly advised. But they do have side effects like headache, loss of appetite and even birth control. Do remember to follow doctors’ suggestion on the optimal dose and schedule for taking them.

Restless Leg Syndrome(RLS)

Restless legs syndrome (RLS), also known as Willis-Ekbom disease (WED), is a common neurological movement disorder symptomized by an uncontrollable urge to move (mainly the legs), engaging 5-10% of adults and 2-4% of children in the U.S.

The cause of RLS consists of both genetic and environmental factors. The former one can be very mysterious to researchers as relative proofs are limited. A more trustworthy belief is that malfunction of the dopamine signaling system(probably caused by iron deficiency in the brain) could cause RLS. There are also non-genetic factors. Diseases like  end-stage renal disease, diabetes mellitus, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and Parkinson disease, and pregnancy of women can also cause RSL. Besides, certain drugs and unhealthy diets(excessive caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol) should not be excluded.

Similar to narcolepsy, RLS can be treated by non-medicinal approaches and medications. Non-medicinal approaches involve lifestyle change and sleep hygiene improvement. Compared with that, medicinal approaches are more complex. As RLS is a chronic disease, using drugs can be a lifelong treatment. In general, patients have to strictly follow doctor’s advice and the dosage should be kept as low as possible.

Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a common breathing disorder that happens during sleep. People with it often share the following symptoms: disrupting breathing, heavy snoring, excessive daytime sleepiness and morning headache.

There are 2 common types of sleep apnea. The first one is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a condition in which the upper airway is blocked and interrupts breathing. This is usually caused by physical structure of a person’s neck and throat, obesity, nasal congestion and smoking. The second type is central sleep apnea (CSA), a relatively more serious condition caused by brain dysfunction, closely related to diseases like a stroke or a brain tumor, and drugs like opioids.

Before taking treatments for sleep apnea, patients need to talk with doctors first to make sure the root causes of their stopping breathing and make targeted improvement. For instance, if a person’s airway is blocked because of smoking, stopping or reducing may effectively cure him/her. For people with OSA, a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) is most frequently used to treat. But for people with CSA, treating the underlying cause(if possible) is needed.

Circadian Rhythm Disorders

Circadian rhythm sleep disorders  refer to a group of conditions related to dysfunctions or misalignments with circadian rhythm (the body’s internal clock). Most people operate on a 24-hour biological clock that is synchronized with bodily hormone production and natural light and darkness. But when one’s internal clock aren’t going as it should, disorders may occur, among which the most common ones are chronic sleep disorder, insomnia, excessive daytime sleepiness and impairments to the one’s mental, physical, social, occupational, or educational performance.

Treatments for circadian rhythm sleep disorders are various. For most people, sleep education and hygiene(one of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia), including training of good sleep hygiene, a healthy sleep environment and a consistent sleep-wake schedule, can be effective enough. Also using melatonin supplements under doctor’s suggestion is another relatively safe way. Apart from traditional treatments, light, as a therapy to sleep disorders, is increasingly accepted by people. Researches have proved that light can largely affect circadian rhythm and melatonin. Thus, for those who are diagnosed as circadian rhythm sleep disorders, using suitable light could be a good choice.


Parasomnias are sleep disorders symptomized by abnormal sleep behaviors or physiological events that occur during specific stages of sleep, including sleep walking, sleep eating, sleep sex, bed wetting, night terrors and rapid eye movement (REM) behavior disorder.

To treat parasomnias, patients should consult their doctors first to understand what the root cause is.For example, the underlying cause of parasomnias may be another sleep condition, such as sleep apnea. In that case, treating the underlying condition may stop the behavior. Basically, cognitive behavioral  therapies, melatonin supplements and drugs are common treatments for corresponding types of parasomnias. And there are some other actions about safety precaution that can help:

  • Lock or remove any dangerous or sharp items from the bedroom.
  • Use floor pads to prevent injuries from falls.
  • Install alarms on windows and doors for sleepwalkers.
  • Sleep in separate beds if the person with parasomnia displays aggressive behaviors – like punching or kicking.