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Types of
Sleep Disorders

Sleep disorders are sometimes uniquely associated with age or gender and, as the summary below suggests there are many different disorders.  While the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, provides a more comprehensive discussion, the excerpt on our website provides a summary of the nearly 90 recognized sleep disorders generally categorized into the groups listed on this page

Restless Leg Syndrome

Restless legs syndrome is a neurological sleep disorder that causes a person to have uncomfortable feelings and the urge to move the legs. Restless legs syndrome makes it difficult to get comfortable enough to fall asleep.  Doctors consider it a sleep disorder because it usually happens or gets worse while you're at rest and it prevents effective sleep.  It is often accompanied by periodic limb movements of sleep.  In children a new disorder called Restless Sleep Disorder is associated with more large body movements at night that disrupt sleep.

Behavioral Insomnia of Childhood

This is a form of chronic Insomnia and usually presents in two forms: sleep association type and limit setting type.  Children may have difficulty staying in bed and having "curtain calls" or may not fall asleep without consistent parental presence.  Once asleep, children often reawaken and return to the parent’s bedroom multiple times.

Breathing-Related Sleep disorders / Apnea

Sleep disorders originating in breathing problems are described as abnormal breathing while asleep.  There are groups of diagnoses associated with breathing problems include obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), central sleep apnea, sleep-related hypoventilation, and sleep-related hypoxemia disorder.  Those suffering from these disorders experience, loud snoring, stoppage in breathing, gasping for breath, irritability, awakening with a dry mouth, morning headaches and daytime sleepiness-trouble staying awake.  Often it is not until another person observes the sufferer does the patient become aware of the symptoms they are experiencing.

Chronic Insomnia disorder

Insomnia is a disorder that includes trouble falling asleep or staying asleep.  It may occur occasionally or may be chronic—happening at least 3 nights a week for 3 months or longer.  While there are different types of insomnia disorder, the main causes of insomnia may include stress, an irregular sleep schedule, poor sleeping habits, mental health disorders like anxiety and depression, physical illnesses and pain, medications, neurological problems, and specific sleep disorders.

Non-REM (NREM) disorders of arousal or parasomnias

NREM disorders are associated with recurrent episodes of incomplete awakening from sleep usually occurring during the first few hours of sleep. During the incomplete awakening, they may sleepwalk (sleep walking type) or panic (sleep terror type).  During NREM episodes, the individuals are unresponsive to others who are trying to communicate with them. Individuals do not recall the events that occur during the episodes. The episodes are usually brief (1-10 min) but can last up to an hour.  When these events occur frequently there could be another underlying sleep disorder present as well.


Narcolepsy is a chronic condition that can have an acute or chronic onset.  It is felt to be due to an autoimmune process but can have other secondary causes.  The most prominent symptom is excessive daytime sleepiness but other symptoms may include cataplexy (the sudden loss of muscle tone), sleep paralysis (the temporary loss of speech or movement while falling asleep), disrupted night-time sleep and hallucinations. Disrupted night time sleep is a prominent feature.

Hypersomnolence disorder

Those with hypersomnolence disorder have difficulty remaining awake during the day despite adequate sleep though insufficient sleep may contribute.  The symptoms of hypersomnia may include anxiety, slowness in thought or speech, low energy, anxiety, restlessness and difficult remembering.  This can be caused by, substance (drug or alcohol) abuse, or as a complication of various neurological diseases.

Circadian rhythm sleep disorders (CRSD)

This group of disorders are associated with the timing of one’s sleep. They generally involve difficulty falling asleep, waking up during the sleep cycle or waking up too early and being unable to fall back to sleep. Often the blind and those with night-shift work may experience this disorder.

Night-time Fears

These fears in children may impact their ability to go to sleep at all without the presence of a parent.  If this becomes severe and unrelenting, it requires consultation.  This may sometimes be confused with Nightmare Disorder.  

Rhythmic Movement disorder

Some children will present with repetitive movements on a nightly basis in order to fall asleep initially or return to sleep when awakened.  Sometimes these movements might include head-banging or body rocking.   Often this is benign, but if disruptive to sleep may need to be addressed.

Insufficient Sleep and Sleep Hygiene Problems

These are often present in most presentations of sleep disorders and are extremely important to address.  Oftentimes solely addressing these two issues can completely solve a patient’s sleep concerns.  These patients can present with insomnia and/or excessive daytime sleepiness.

Nightmare disorders

Nightmare disorders (ND) are a type of sleep disorder that involves undesirable experiences when waking up from a disturbing dream.  Nightmares usually occur during the stage of sleep known as rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.  Some conditions associated with ND include posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and anxiety. Certain medications and substances can also induce or exacerbate nightmare disorder.

Rapid Eye Movement (REM) Sleep Behavior disorders

During REM-SDs you physically act out vivid, often unpleasant dreams with vocal sounds and sudden, often violent arm and leg movements during REM sleep — sometimes called dream-enacting behavior.  The exact cause of RBD-SDs is unknown, but it may happen along with degenerative neurological conditions such as Parkinson's disease, multisystem atrophy (also known as Shy-Drager syndrome), and diffuse Lewy body dementia.

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