We all know the importance of a good night’s sleep. Experts agree that eight hours should do it for most of us. But while many people simply ignore this advice because they’d rather watch their favourite late night host or catch up on missed chores, other people lose sleep from something that may be out of their power ‘a sleep disorder’.

Sleep experts estimate that over 100 types of sleep disorders affect 70 million Americans each year. A sleep disorder is loosely defined as having some sort of difficulty sleeping, be it the inability to fall or stay asleep, too much sleep or falling asleep at an inappropriate time, or exhibiting abnormal behaviours during sleep. Here are the most common types of sleep disorders.


Insomnia can wreak havoc on the lives of those who are unfortunate enough to have to deal with it, especially if it’s not just temporarily. Insomnia can be caused by persistent stress, lack of exercise, excessive noise or light, using stimulants like drugs and alcohol, psychiatric problems or physical illnesses. Chances are you’ll know if you have insomnia because you can’t fall asleep or stay asleep, or have a generally poor quality of sleep, even if you create good sleeping habits for yourself. To treat insomnia, sleeping pills and behavioural therapy may be effective, but check with your doctor for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.

Sleep Apnea

People with sleep apnea may snore loudly and wake up frequently during the night because of disrupted breathing, gasping, gagging or choking, or actually ceasing to breathe while they sleep. Sounds dangerous, doesn’t it? Sleep apnea is a serious sleep-related breathing disorder that can affect anyone, but most commonly affects obese, middle-aged men. It has to do with the size of the neck; the heavier you are, the more fat there is in the throat. That fat narrows the airway, blocking the ability to properly breathe. Fortunately, sleep apnea can be treated with positive airway pressure, where air is blown into the throat, position therapy, oral appliances, and most importantly, weight loss.


It may be comical to see someone all of a sudden fall asleep, but it’s no laughing matter when someone does this in situations like driving or while on the job. Narcoleptics may experience cataplexy, a weakness in the leg, arm or face that can be caused by the oncoming of strong emotions. They may also experience sleep paralysis, an inability to move or speak while conscious, as well as hypnagogic hallucinations, strange dreamlike episodes where they may see things that aren’t there. No cure exists for narcolepsy but with proper treatment, often in the form of stimulants during the day, narcolepsy can be better managed.


It might also look funny to find someone sleepwalking, but again it can be a serious matter. Sleepwalking, or somnambulism, occurs when you complete actions while asleep, like sitting up in bed or getting up to walk around. The eyes are open and appear glassy, and often the actions involve something strange,inappropriate or dangerous. Sleepwalking is common in children but usually goes away in the teens, and sleepwalking often runs in the family.

Restless Legs Syndrome

Remember experiencing what your mom called ‘growing pains?’ Many people mistake restless leg syndrome for growing pains, when in fact they’re not. Symptoms of restless leg syndrome include little involuntary movements in the toes, feet or legs or other uncomfortable or painful sensations that make someone want to walk around or move them (which provides immediate relief). Similar to RLS is periodic limb movement, where someone experiences rhythmic jerking in the feet or legs, which causes restless sleep too. Medication is available for treatment, and doctors also encourage lifestyle changes.

Shift Work

Doctors and nurses and those who work the graveyard shift can attest to this sleep disorder that has to do with the circadian rhythm, the body’s internal clock that controls the times you feel the need to sleep. The effects of shift work usually go away once a schedule goes back to normal, but tweaking hours forward rather than backward, limiting number of shift changes and allowing for small periods of rests can help.

Some of the more minor sleep disorders can be prevented by developing a healthy sleep routine, while others are simply out of your control. Sleep disorders don’t have to be something to lose sleep over. Get help immediately if any of these signs and symptoms relate to you, and be on your way to a better night’s rest.

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