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What are the Most Common Sleep Disorders?

By Kathy Heydasch
Updated May 17, 2024
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The most common sleep disorders include insomnia, sleep apnea, sleepwalking, night terrors, and narcolepsy. Many of these involve the lack of sleep, although some diminish the quality of sleep, which can be just as detrimental to the human body. Good sleep is vital to overall health, but a good night’s rest can be difficult to achieve with the number of common sleep disorders one may experience. Eight hours of sleep a night is generally recommended, but if those eight hours are not spent restfully, serious health problems can occur.

Insomnia is the most frequently-reported of the common sleep disorders. This refers to a lack of sleep, whether a person has trouble falling asleep or simply staying asleep. Insomnia can be short-term and overcome, or it can be a chronic condition. There is no exact cure or medical test for insomnia, but it can be treated with sleeping aids, whether over-the-counter or prescribed, and lifestyle changes, such as the avoidance of caffeine.

Sleep apnea occurs when a person’s breathing is interrupted during sleep. Shallow breaths and the cessation of breathing altogether are common, usually in episodes which last a few seconds to a few minutes. Sleep apnea is typically a chronic condition that can be corrected with a mouthpiece or breathing apparatus which one wears while sleeping. Sometimes surgery can correct an obstructed airway, allowing a person to breathe easily and sufficiently while resting.

Sleepwalking is another of the common sleep disorders, and involves the body performing certain “awake” functions while fast asleep. These might include walking, brushing teeth, or even rearranging furniture. The clinical term for sleepwalking is somnambulism, possibly a genetic condition, and episodes can last for a few seconds or even as long as an hour or more. It is a common misconception that a sleepwalker should not be awakened. In fact, a sleepwalker risks injury during episodes and should be awakened.

Night terrors can cause restless sleep in a child or adult, as well as serious problems for a sleeping partner. This condition occurs when a sleeping person does not fully wake from sleep, but instead experiences extreme terror which can result in screaming, wailing or physically assaulting a sleeping partner. Night terrors severely diminish the quality of sleep and can result in any number of physical symptoms during the daytime.

Narcolepsy is very different from the usual common sleep disorders. It occurs when a person has a predisposition to fall quickly into and out of a deep phase of sleep known as rapid eye movement, or REM sleep. Most people who have narcolepsy are found to have a low level of a brain chemical called hypocretin, which helps a person wake up and be attentive.

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Discussion Comments

By Sporkasia — On Oct 19, 2014

I once toured a sleep center at a local hospital when I was a newspaper reporter and covering the health beat. I was amazed at all of the equipment they had at the center to diagnose and treat patients. Some of the machines made use of some very interesting and advanced technology.

By mobilian33 — On Oct 18, 2014

My uncle had a sleep disorder. He used to walk in his sleep. He would get out of bed, walk downstairs and even open the door and walk outside some nights. The first time I saw him walking down the hall like some kind of zombie I was scared to death. I was just a kid at the time and watching him was like watching something from one of those TV horror shows I wasn't supposed to be watching.

My mama told us that we shouldn't try to wake him when he was sleep walking because he might hurt us or hurt himself. Once I got used to him walking around I wasn't so afraid, but it was still a strange sight to see.

By Feryll — On Oct 17, 2014

I had a cousin who had sleep apnea. She snored really loudly. At first we had no idea that the snoring was a sign of her sleep disorder. We just liked to give her a hard time about her snoring. Later in her life she was diagnosed, and she was given some type of breathing machine that she was hooked up to when she slept. I think it was similar to one of the types mentioned in this article.

I know that most people with this disorder lead normal lives and don't have any major issues. Unfortunately my cousin wasn't one of these people. She fell asleep one night and didn't wake up. I should mention that her condition was made worse because she began to put on a lot of extra weight, and she was also in a car accident that led to scar tissue on one of her lungs.

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