Sleep Disorder

Sleep Disorders: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment Options

Sleep disorders are conditions that disrupt a person’s normal patterns of sleep, such as difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. If left untreated, sleep disorders can have a serious negative impact on physical and mental health. It is estimated that up to 70 million people in the United States—more than a third of the population—suffer from some form of sleep disorder. Common sleep disorders include insomnia, sleep apnea, narcolepsy, and restless leg syndrome. The following is an overview of these sleep disorders, including causes, symptoms, and treatment options.


Insomnia is difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, even when given the opportunity. It can either be acute or chronic. Acute insomnia is a short-term condition, lasting only days or weeks. Chronic insomnia is an ongoing condition, lasting more than a month and recurring regularly.

Common causes of insomnia include stress, anxiety, depression, poor sleep habits, medications, caffeine, and alcohol. Symptoms may include difficulty falling asleep, waking frequently during the night, waking up too early, or not feeling well-rested after sleeping.

Treatment options for insomnia depend on the underlying cause and can include lifestyle changes, such as improving sleep habits, reducing stress, avoiding caffeine and alcohol, and avoiding medications that interfere with sleep. Other treatments may include cognitive behavioral therapy, prescription medications, or light therapy.

Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a common disorder in which breathing stops and starts repeatedly during sleep. It is caused by the narrowing or complete obstruction of the airway during sleep, leading to pauses in breathing. It is often accompanied by snoring.

Sleep apnea is more common in men and those over the age of 40. Other risk factors include obesity, family history, smoking, and certain medications. Symptoms may include daytime drowsiness, lack of energy, difficulty concentrating, and restlessness during sleep.

The most common treatment for sleep apnea is the use of a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine, which provides a continuous supply of air through a mask while sleeping. Other treatments may include lifestyle changes, such as losing weight and quitting smoking, and oral appliances, such as a mouthpiece, to keep the airway open.


Narcolepsy is a neurological disorder that affects the brain’s ability to regulate sleep-wake cycles. People with narcolepsy have difficulty staying asleep and often experience sudden, uncontrollable episodes of sleep during the day.

Common causes and risk factors for narcolepsy include family history, genetics, and certain autoimmune disorders. Symptoms may include excessive daytime sleepiness, nighttime sleep disruption, difficulty concentrating, and hallucinations.

Treatment options for narcolepsy include lifestyle changes, such as improving sleep habits, and medications, such as stimulants and antidepressants. Other treatments may include cognitive behavioral therapy, light therapy, or surgical procedures to remove obstructions in the airway.

Restless Leg Syndrome

Restless leg syndrome (RLS) is a neurological disorder characterized by an irresistible urge to move the legs. It is often accompanied by uncomfortable sensations in the legs, such as aching, tingling, or a crawling sensation.

Common causes of RLS include certain medications, iron deficiency, and genetic factors. Symptoms may include an irresistible urge to move the legs, difficulty falling asleep, and daytime sleepiness.

Treatment options include lifestyle changes, such as improving sleep habits, avoiding alcohol and caffeine, and exercising regularly. Other treatments may include medications, such as dopamine agonists or opioids. In some cases, physical therapy and acupuncture may also be helpful.