There are many types of sleep disorders. These are conditions that prevent you from getting a good night’s sleep, therefore hampering your daytime functioning.

What are sleep disorders?

A healthy adult requires 7-9 hours of sleep to function properly. Sleep disorders and the resulting poor sleep quality can lead to other mental disorders, and sometimes are actually symptoms of other mental or physical illnesses.

 Sleep disorders hinder the quality and quantity of sleep a person gets. Significantly less than ideal sleep can in turn cause lower concentration levels, constant sleepiness, drowsiness, mental fog, fatigue, poor decision making, irritability, depression, and overall substandard quality of life during the waking hours. 

Disturbed sleep is also linked to different physical health diseases such as heart problems, diabetes, and other neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s disease.

Check out Why Is Sleep Important, Why Am I Not Sleeping Well, and What To Do If You Can’t Sleep!

Types of sleep disorders:

There are over 100 different types of sleep disorders and they all can be categorized into the following 4 classes:

  • Insomniac sleep disorders
  • Excessive sleep disorders
  • Rhythmic sleep disorders
  • Disruptive sleep disorders

Insomniac sleep disorders are the most common type of sleep disorder. They involve trouble falling asleep or staying asleep.

If you have sleep difficulties that occur frequently and remain persistent for long periods, then the likely cause is insomnia.

It can be short-term (or acute insomnia), lasting from a few days to a few weeks or it can also be long-term (or chronic insomnia), lasting for several months with insomniac episodes ranging from 2 to 3 episodes a week. 

Around half of the population experiences, several bouts of acute insomnia during their lifetimes and about 10% of the population suffers from chronic insomnia.

woman can't sleep looking at alarm clock

Symptoms of insomnia:

Sleep difficulties that hint toward insomniac sleep disorder are the following:

  • Trouble falling asleep
  • Staying awake at night
  • Waking up several times during sleep
  • Feeling tired after waking up
  • Inability to fall asleep even when you’re tired and want to go to sleep
  • Having difficulty concentrating during the daytime
  • Irritability after waking up

What causes insomnia?

Stress is the leading cause of acute insomnia. Stresses of daily life can take a toll on a person and keep the person busy thinking about them.

Other causes include irritability due to changes in the environment, physical injury that may be causing trouble sleeping, and high intake of caffeine or alcohol.

Chronic insomnia is mostly caused by depression and anxiety, other mental health issues, or chronic pain and stress.

Treatment of insomnia

Sleep deprivation will quickly start to affect your daily life, making you desperate to find a fix. There are a few different options to use (or find a combination of):

1. Medication

A doctor may prescribe sleeping pills to treat insomnia. There are different types of sleeping pills available and the doctor may prescribe a different medication depending upon your condition. 

All the medications are highly advised to be taken as prescribed by the physician and should be taken right before going to sleep.

A person should make sure that their available window of sleep is 8-9 hours long and that there are no disturbances in the room that could disrupt sleep.

Following are the most common types of insomniac medication prescribed:


These help relieve anxiety and stress and therefore can be very helpful in treating short-term insomnia.

Anti-depressants increase the number of serotonin molecules in the brain and calm the mind. If the insomnia is caused due to stress, then the anti-depressants will help mitigate insomnia.

Sleeping pills (benzodiazepines):

Benzodiazepines are carefully prescribed due to multiple side effects but they, can be very helpful in inducing long periods of sleep.

They stay inside the body for a long time and act as sedatives, and are also known as tranquilizers. These medications work by inhibiting the central nervous system and relieving stress. They can act fast and will help you fall asleep within half an hour.

However, they are also very dangerous as they’re very susceptible to abuse. Their excessive use can also lead to withdrawal symptoms, and in the case of too much intake, can also cause an overdose.

People build up a tolerance for these drugs and require heavy dosages to feel the same effects. It is therefore recommended that sleeping pills should not be taken frequently, making them only a temporary fix. 

Melatonin receptor agonists:

These medications help regulate sleep cycles.They do so by stimulating the melatonin receptors present inside the hypothalamus which regulates the circadian cycles. These medications can be prescribed for long-term use as they are not susceptible to abuse.


These block histamine receptors and therefore are used to treat anxiety and stress. Any insomniac disorder caused by stress can therefore likely be treated with doxepin.

2. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is extremely effective in treating insomnia. It focuses on intrusive thoughts and stressful emotions that keep a person from falling asleep and keep them awake at night.

CBT helps develop good sleeping habits and employs different techniques to help relax and be mindful of thought patterns. 

Excessive sleep disorder

Excessive sleep disorders or hypersomnia sleep disorders are conditions where the person feels the need to sleep more than what is normal for an adult human being.

Despite getting a decent sleep through the night, the person can’t help but feel tired and sleepy throughout the day. They have trouble staying awake during the waking hours.

Hypersomnia is hard to diagnose. Usually, the physician would require the patient to keep a sleep journal to help track the sleep schedule.

Other tests include polysomnography, where the patient is monitored during sleep to keep track of rhythmic patterns and help diagnose the cause of excessive sleepiness.

Causes of excessive sleep disorder

Abuse of benzodiazepines, alcohol and other drugs, depression, genetic causes, obesity, or a neurological disease may cause excessive sleep disorder.

Other sleep disorders, such as narcolepsy, sleep apnea, and restless leg syndrome can also contribute to hypersomnia.

Treatment for excessive sleep disorder

Treatment can differ depending on the severity of the condition. Usually, changes in routine, diet, and exercise can go a long way in treating excessive sleep disorders in most cases.

In severe cases, amphetamines, methylphenidate, and other stimulants are prescribed by the physicians to temporarily help the symptoms while changes in routine and diet help get rid of the disorder.

If your hypersomnia is caused by sleep apnea, then your physician may prescribe CPAP treatment. This is where you are required to wear a mask while you sleep, and with the help of a machine, continuous airflow is delivered through the nostrils. 

Rhythmic sleep disorders

Sleep-related rhythmic movement disorders are rhythmic motor movements of body parts occurring during stage 1 non-rapid eye movement sleep.

These movements include head-banging, body rocking, and rolling. These usually occur in childhood and go away with time.

Rhythmic sleep disorders can lead to injuries as these movements are rapid and involuntary. Each episode can last up to 10-15 minutes. 

Very few studies have been conducted regarding the treatment of rhythmic sleep disorders as usually they occur in infants and do not pose any real danger. However, medication may be prescribed depending on the movement of the child.

Disruptive sleep disorders

Parasomnias or disruptive sleep disorders include abnormal physical behaviors while being asleep. These include sleepwalking, sleep talking, nightmare disorders, sleep paralysis, and a sleep-related eating disorder.

Parasomnias disrupt sleep and constitute strange physical actions. There are two different types of parasomnias, non-REM parasomnias and REM parasomnias.

tired woman in bed yawning holding mug

Non-REM parasomnias

Non-REM parasomnias can occur between the ages of 5-25. They are also called arousal disorders and involve physical and verbal activity. The person usually cannot recall the events the next day.

People with a family history of non-REM parasomnias are more likely to be diagnosed with it. Genetic links between different physical behaviors during non-REM parasomnias have also been discovered. 

People suffering from non-REM parasomnias may experience the following:

1. Sleepwalking

The person gets out of bed and moves around while still being deep in sleep. They show complex behavior as their brain is partially active.

They may talk or perform other activities. Since the person is practically asleep and unaware of what they’re doing, they’re prone to severe injuries.

2. Sleep terrors

These are episodes of intense fear where the person suddenly wakes up from their sleep extremely terrified. This state is usually accompanied by screaming, shaking, and sweating.

Sleep terrors affect 40% of children. A small percentage of adults also suffer from sleep terrors. If sleep terrors become more frequent, disrupt the routine on regular basis, and result in poor daytime experiences, then it is recommended to see a doctor. 

3. Confusional arousals

Confusional arousals are events where the person may seem awake but they’re asleep and exhibit strange behavior.

They’re unaware of their situation and may not be able to recall anything later on. They are different from other parasomnias, as the person stays in bed and is not terrified.

4. Sleep-related eating disorder

Another type of non-REM parasomnia includes sleep-related eating disorders. With this, the person eats and drinks while not being fully awake.

As with the other disorders, the person has no memory of the events. These can be dangerous as people are susceptible to cuts, burns, and other injuries. People also end up eating toxic or non-food substances. 

Sleep-related eating disorders usually occur due to other sleep disorders or due to the medication being used to treat other sleep disorders. 

REM sleep disorders

REM parasomnias usually occur at later stages of sleep and people may recall the events of the previous night. These parasomnias include physical movements, nightmares, and noise.

Usually, during REM sleep, the nerve pathways prevent muscles from experiencing movement. The disorder occurs when these pathways no longer work and the body experiences muscle movement. 

Women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with these disorders than men, and they can affect people from all age groups.

The most important difference between non-REM and REM sleep disorders is that people can remember and recall the events afterward when affected by the latter. 

Some REM sleep disorders include:

1. Nightmare disorders

These are dreams that cause severe anxiety, terror, and fright. These nightmares are so severe that they can push you out of the sleep state and leave you with the fears of anxiety and terror.

People find it difficult to go back to sleep and remain scared for a while. They can remember the dreams vividly after they wake up and recall the details. 

Stress, anxiety, trauma, insomnia, drug abuse, physical abuse, strong medications, and other disorders may cause nightmare disorders. Frequent nightmares can disrupt sleep and can leave the person fatigued, sleepy, and feeling detached. 

2. Sleep paralysis

A person suffering from sleep paralysis is unable to move their body. They are essentially stuck in the state and cannot move their limbs.

The episodes can span from a few seconds to a few minutes and can induce intense fear. The mind is transitioning between different phases of sleep and being awake, and because of that, it feels so real. 

Sleep paralysis occurs due to a lack of sleep or changes in sleep schedules. The use of different medications can also cause sleep paralysis. Stress, mental conditions, and other sleep disorders are also linked to sleep paralysis.

The use of antidepressants and changes in sleep habits can help relieve sleep paralysis. If the cause is another medication or drug abuse, then avoiding them can also help get rid of sleep paralysis. 

Other sleep disorders

There are a couple sleep disorders that do not fit into either of the above categories. This is because they are not directly related to sleep, but just occur during, possibly waking you up.

1. Sleep apnea

Sleep apnea is a sleeping disorder where the person experiences trouble breathing during sleep. The body can experience a lot of stress from sleep apnea.

Also, it usually results in disruption of sleep, since the person wakes up multiple times during their sleep. The most common sign of sleep apnea is snoring. 

Sleep apnea can be obstructive or central. Obstructive apnea is caused by an obstruction in the air pathways which causes a blockage and the person finds it difficult to breathe. 

Central apnea is less common. In central sleep apnea, the brain fails to continue the involuntary breathing process.

A CPAP machine is used to maintain air pressure to keep the air pathways open. This treatment is only prescribed to treat severe cases. For milder cases, lifestyle changes are recommended. 

woman cant sleep sitting in bed

2. Restless leg syndrome

Restless leg syndrome causes an itchy and uncomfortable feeling in the leg and the person can’t resist the urge to kick or move the legs. This usually surfaces when the body is at rest.

Since the body is at rest mostly at night, restless leg syndrome can cause trouble sleeping. It can cause daytime fatigue, irritability, hindrance in performance at work, and trouble concentrating. 

Medications such as anti-seizure drugs, opioids, antidepressants, and iron supplements are prescribed and, in most cases, people show signs of improvement quickly. As with other sleep disorders, lifestyle changes can also provide comfort and relief. 

Conclusion on the types of sleep disorders

There are many different types of sleep disorders and being affected by any of them can be extremely detrimental to your health.

Getting enough sleep is crucial if you want to stay active throughout the day and remain happy, which is why sleep disorders can also lead to anxiety, stress, and depression.

Different medications are prescribed for different sleep disorders, but in most cases, they require lifestyle changes.

With the help of a healthcare professional, you can get treated for your sleep disorder and start living a healthy and rested life once again.

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