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Symptoms and Diagnosis of Sleep Disorders


For those who have difficulty sleeping, it may seem like your health and well-being is unraveling before your very eyes. There are a variety of sleep disorders that may affect breathing, cause movements or behaviors, or alter the timing of sleep. A condition like insomnia might disrupt your ability to sleep while other sleep disorders may leave you feeling too sleepy. Health problems may also undermine your sleep. For those who suffer from disrupted sleep, it is important to sort out what the symptoms mean and undergo appropriate testing to reach a diagnosis.
  1. Basics of Sleep Disorders
  2. Sleep Disorders: Insomnia
  3. Sleep Disorders: Excessive Sleepiness
  4. Sleep Disorders: Breathing Disruption
  5. Sleep Disorders: Movements
  6. Sleep Disorders: Behaviors
  1. Sleep Disorders: Altered Sleep Timing
  2. Sleep Disorders: Children's Sleep Problems
  3. Causes of Sleep Disorders
  4. Health Problems and Sleep Effects
  5. Getting a Diagnosis

Basics of Sleep Disorders

It is important to recognize that though the symptoms of sleep disorders may be similar - including excessive daytime sleepiness and fatigue - the causes may be quite distinct. Discover the varying subtleties of sleep disorders and learn some of the basic symptoms for each.

Sleep Disorders: Insomnia

Insomnia is difficulty falling or staying asleep or sleep that is simply not refreshing. It is the most common sleep disorder, affecting nearly 1 in 3 people. It should be distinguished from other disruptions of sleep, including sleep deprivation.

Sleep Disorders: Excessive Sleepiness

Sleep disorders often result in excessive daytime sleepiness. When we feel too sleepy, a condition called hypersomnia, we are unable to function at our best. This most commonly is due to inadequate sleep. Less often it may result from conditions such as narcolepsy or chronic fatigue syndrome. There are even rare conditions such as Kleine-Levin syndrome and African sleeping sickness that might leave us feeling overly tired.

Sleep Disorders: Breathing Disruption

Some sleep disorders can disrupt your breathing during sleep. Most often this results in snoring, but if the airway becomes completely blocked it may cause obstructive sleep apnea. A similar condition called central sleep apnea can interrupt breathing, but it originates from within the brain.

Sleep Disorders: Movements

Unintentional or uncontrolled movements may also occur when transitioning to or during sleep. This may be due to restless legs syndrome (RLS) or periodic limb movements of sleep. Uncontrolled twitches (called myoclonus) or painful cramps may also occur. A sense of falling may result in a sudden night start. People with epilepsy may even be subject to nighttime seizures.

Sleep Disorders: Behaviors

Abnormal behaviors called parasomnias may occur during sleep. The most common examples include sleepwalking and sleep talking. Complex actions such as sleep eating may also occur. Some people inappropriately act out their dreams as part of REM behavior disorder. When dream sleep persists into wakefulness it may cause sleep paralysis, resulting in an inability to move and vivid hallucinations.

Sleep Disorders: Altered Sleep Timing

When the timing of sleep becomes disrupted, it may result in falling asleep or waking too early or too late. These conditions are often called circadian rhythm disorders, referring to our body's natural patterns as timed to day and night. One transient example is jet lag, which occurs as the result of long-distance travel. Disrupted sleep patterns may also occur as part of shift work sleep disorder. Seasonal mood problems and sleep disturbance characterize seasonal affective disorder.

Sleep Disorders: Children's Sleep Problems

Children may also suffer from sleep disorders that affect adults, including insomnia and narcolepsy. They also may be subject to unique conditions such as sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Children more frequently experience bedwetting and sleep terrors. They may have nightmares and confusional arousals. These conditions should not be overlooked by parents as they may have important consequences.

Causes of Sleep Disorders

As sleep disorders can be so very distinctive, the underlying causes can also be quite diverse. Disruptions in breathing due to an obstructed airway may lead to sleep apnea while stress could trigger insomnia. It may be possible to improve your sleep by recognizing and eliminating the underlying cause of your sleep disorder. Therefore, it is useful to carefully consider these causes as an important step in getting better.

Health Problems and Sleep Effects

Many health problems can profoundly, and sometimes unexpectedly, affect our ability to sleep. Chronic medical conditions might lead us to feel sleepy or fatigued, and it is sometimes necessary to eliminate these as a potential cause of our problems.

Getting a Diagnosis

If you believe that you suffer from a sleep disorder, how should you go about getting a diagnosis? Educate yourself on how to find a sleep specialist or sleep center. Find out what testing should be done, and what options are available to you. Actively preparing yourself for the process will also help when the diagnosis becomes clear.

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