Are you struggling to get your full 7 hours each night? Or perhaps you’re experiencing some unusual symptoms during your sleep?
You may have a sleeping disorder.
Our guide covers the most common sleeping disorders, as well as ones you may not have heard of, and ways to help fight feelings of fatigue.
A sleeping disorder is defined as experiencing problems with the quality, timing and amount of sleep, which can result in daytime distress and impairment in functioning.1
Sleep disorders can be linked with both physical and mental health problems due to the consistent disruption they can cause to our sleep.
Insomnia is considered the most common, as it’s thought to affect one in three people in the UK,2 but there are other conditions like sleepwalking, sleep apnoea and narcolepsy.
However, there are several lesser-known sleeping disorders to consider, too, such as hypersomnia, sleeping beauty syndrome and shift work sleep disorder.
5 most common sleeping disorders
Possibly one of the most well-known sleeping disorders; insomnia refers to having difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep.
This means you may have trouble getting to sleep when your head hits the pillow, or you may wake up during the night and struggle to get back to sleep.
Insomnia can have many symptoms, such as fatigue, irritability, difficulty paying attention, and depression and/or anxiety.
Some of the most common causes of insomnia are around lifestyle and your sleeping routine – for example if you experience jet lag frequently; mental health conditions such as stress and anxiety; or if you have an on-going medical condition.
Read our ultimate guide to insomnia to learn more about treatment options, including vitamins and supplements, home remedies and tips.
Also known as ‘twitchy legs’ or tired legs syndrome, restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a nervous system disorder that gives you the irresistible urge to move your lower limbs and feet.
This is especially common at bedtime, which can cause people to lose sleep or have interrupted sleep because of this.
In some cases, this can affect your arms, chest and face, too.3
RLS is generally more common in women who are pregnant, people who are suffering from iron deficiency, those with RLS running in the family, and those with long-term health conditions that could affect sleep.
Restless legs syndrome treatment is usually a combination of lifestyle changes and medication or supplements, but you should always speak to your GP first.
For more information, our informative guide on restless legs syndrome has you covered.
Sleep apnoea is a sleep disorder that causes frequent interruptions in a person’s breathing as they sleep.
This means your breathing will stop and start again, sometimes multiple times, while you are asleep.
There are three different types of sleep apnoea:
- Obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) – this is where your breathing is stopped by a blockage restricting the air flow.
- Central sleep apnoea – this is where the brain fails to send the signal to inhale, causing you to miss a breath, or multiple breaths.
- Mixed sleep apnoea – this is a combination of the two.
Learn more about sleep apnoea, including treatment options and causes, from our detailed guide.
You may know of narcolepsy due to its unfortunate symptoms of falling asleep at inappropriate times and places.
However, a medical definition of narcolepsy is that it’s a neurological disorder that affects the brain’s ability to control sleep-wake cycles.4
Narcolepsy can be not only inconvenient but also dangerous, as people suffering from narcolepsy could be impacted while they are eating, exercising, or even driving.
Although usually developed in childhood, narcolepsy can affect anyone of any age or gender at any point in their life.
It can cause excessive daytime sleepiness, hallucinations, cataplexy (the sudden loss of muscle tone, which is often triggered by strong emotions, such as laughter) and sleep paralysis.
12 other sleep disorders that may be keeping you awake
More common in children under the age of 4, bedwetting typically happens less and less as the child grows older.
However, if this is experienced in older children, this can lead to emotional distress, such as anxiety and shame.
Medically called Bruxism, teeth grinding can occur subconsciously during sleep.
Over time this can cause tooth damage, jaw pain and headaches.
Circadian rhythms regulate our body’s sleeping and waking patterns.
Irregularities with these rhythms can make people fall asleep and wake up at inconvenient times.
This term means excessive sleepiness. It’s often seen as the opposite of insomnia. With insomnia, you struggle to fall asleep, but with hypersomnia, you struggle to stay awake.
Similar to narcolepsy, those with the condition typically fall asleep at any time and having trouble staying awake during the day.
Also known as Kleine–Levin syndrome (KLS), this is a rare sleep disorder characterised by recurrent episodes of hypersomnia (excessive sleepiness) and cognitive/mood changes.5
In some cases, up to 20 hours a day are spent sleeping.
Typically, most common in teenage boys, symptoms tend to come and go over extended periods of time. However, it can make it extremely difficult to complete daily life, such as school or work.
This refers to when somebody is getting the recommended hours of sleep but still feels sleepy and unrested when waking up.
Typically, this condition develops during late teens but may not be diagnosed until later in life.
Nightmares are upsetting dreams that can immediately wake the sleeper.
Most common in children, they can be caused by a wide range of factors, including traumatic events and medications.
Nightmare disorder can occur when you begin dreaming the same repetitive, distressing, lengthy dreams that typically involve avoiding threats or danger.
Usually affecting children between three and eight years old, night terrors often cause the sleeper to wake up shouting in panic.
From walking around to performing activities like driving, sleepwalking involves carrying out complex behaviours while asleep.
This usually occurs towards the beginning of your sleep, so around the first few hours after you’ve fallen asleep.
Occurring only during sleep, this disorder causes repetitive cramping or rhythmic movement of the legs.
This is similar to restless legs syndrome, but has significant differences.
Affecting shift workers and people who work at night, this condition is characterised by difficulty staying awake or alert when you are supposed to be working.
Usually happening when waking up, people with sleep paralysis are unable to move or speak for a few seconds or minutes before returning to normal.
Sleep disorders can cause both physical and emotional problems due to the disruption they cause to your sleep cycles.
The most common sleep disorders are insomnia, restless leg syndrome, narcolepsy and sleep apnoea.
Some of the lesser-known sleep disorders include sleeping beauty syndrome, period limb movement disorder and hypersomnolence disorder.
If you believe you are experiencing any of the above symptoms or think you may be suffering from a sleep disorder, contact your GP for professional medical advice and treatment options.
Last updated: 16 January 2023