A person’s symptoms may vary depending on the sleep disorder affecting them. People may have difficulty falling asleep or experience low quality, disrupted sleep.

The amount of sleep someone needs varies throughout their life, but adults typically need at least 7 hours every night. Without this, people may feel tired and irritable and have trouble concentrating.

Sleep disorders can occur due to another health condition or worsen preexisting health conditions. The exact symptoms a person experiences can help doctors diagnose the sleep disorder and create an appropriate treatment plan.

This article looks into some of the most common types of sleep disorders, including the symptoms of each and when to get help.

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Insomnia is a sleep disorder that can cause difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep. Specific symptoms can include:

  • waking often during sleep
  • waking very early in the morning
  • being unable to fall asleep again after waking
  • sleep quality issues

Doctors may diagnose people with insomnia if symptoms occur on 3 or more nights a week for 3 or more months, with no other apparent cause.

According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), symptoms may vary with age. Young adults are more likely to experience difficulties falling asleep, while older adults more often wake through the night.

Sleep apnea describes a sleep disorder in which a person’s breathing stops and restarts many times during the night. Additional symptoms may include:

Because someone can be asleep during some of these symptoms, they may only become aware if a partner who sleeps beside them notices the symptoms.

People with restless leg syndrome may experience tingling or crawling sensations, prompting an overwhelming urge to kick or move their legs. This discomfort may recede when a person moves their legs.

According to the APA, these symptoms can cause difficulty getting to sleep and staying asleep. People may experience more severe symptoms at night or after some inactivity.

Parasomnias are unwanted physical or verbal activities that someone experiences during sleep. These include:

The exact symptoms and behaviors that someone experiences may depend on the parasomnia that affects them.

People with narcolepsy experience sudden bouts of extreme tiredness and can fall asleep unexpectedly. This occurs even when they are involved in another activity, such as eating, driving, or walking.

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) describes it as a neurological disorder that affects a person’s brain, making it difficult to control sleep-wake cycles. Other symptoms include:

  • falling asleep multiple times a day
  • cataplexy, which involves sudden muscle weakness, causing the knees to buckle or causing weakness in the hands or facial muscles
  • sleep paralysis, where a person cannot move, either just before falling asleep or on waking
  • vivid dream imagery on falling asleep or after waking up

Circadian rhythm disorders describe sleep patterns that are out of sync with the person’s environment. They can be temporary, for example, if a person is jet-lagged, or more long lasting.

Different types of circadian rhythm disorders have different symptoms, but doctors diagnose them depending on patterns of sleep and wakefulness.

Some people with circadian rhythm disorders may fall asleep in the early evening and wake very early in the morning. Others may not be able to sleep until very late at night but have difficulty waking in the morning.

Both of these patterns can cause problems, particularly for people who work typical hours during the day.

The American Academy of Sleep Education suggests people can improve their sleep quality by:

  • going to bed and getting up at the same time every day, including weekends
  • stopping using electronic devices, including smartphones and televisions, at least 30 minutes before going to bed
  • engaging in relaxing activities before bed, such as taking a warm bath, listening to calming music, or meditating
  • avoiding caffeine and alcohol before bed
  • avoiding eating immediately before bed
  • ensuring the bedroom is comfortable, sufficiently dark, and quiet to encourage sleep
  • exercising regularly

If someone cannot sleep, they may benefit from getting out of bed and engaging in a quiet, low-light activity to help them feel tired.

Doctors may not diagnose someone with a sleep disorder unless they are experiencing consistent symptoms and sleep disruptions. In some cases, people may need to experience symptoms for 3 months or longer.

However, if a person’s lack of sleep interferes with daily life, causing depression or stress, they may wish to speak with a doctor sooner.

A doctor may recommend practicing good sleep hygiene. Treatment options may vary depending on the specific sleep disorder that affects someone. For instance, someone with sleep apnea may need a continuous positive airway pressure machine.

To diagnose a sleep disorder and decide the best treatment method, doctors may ask people to keep a sleep diary to observe patterns of sleeping and wakefulness.

Sleep disorders can affect a person’s ability to get to sleep, quality of sleep, and quality of life. The specific symptoms someone experiences may depend on the type of sleep disorder that affects them.

For instance, someone with insomnia might have difficulty staying asleep through the night, while a person with sleep apnea experiences disrupted breathing, which can affect their sleep quality.

Doctors may recommend lifestyle changes, such as getting regular exercise, to improve a person’s sleep. However, a proper diagnosis can help them tailor a treatment plan to an individual’s needs.