Sleep Disorders

Written by Julie Roddick | Published on September 10, 2012
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD on September 10, 2012

What Are Sleep Disorders?

Sleep disorders/disturbances can cause your sleep to be disturbed. Disturbed sleep includes the inability to fall asleep, the inability to go back to sleep, and frequent waking up during the night. Sleep disorders can make you feel tired, fatigued, and irritable, making it difficult for you to concentrate during the day.

Most people have experienced sleep disturbances at some point in their lives. Anyone at any age can develop a sleep disorder/disturbance. Depending on the cause and the treatment, sleep disturbances can be short-term or long-term.

Having trouble sleeping? See a visual guide of how sleep deprivation affects the body »

What Are the Causes of Sleep Disorders/Disturbances?

There are many conditions, diseases, and disorders that can cause sleep disturbances. There are several common causes of sleep disturbances:

  • Bedwetting is a cause of sleep disturbance that usually occurs in children during potty training. It is called nocturnal enuresis. Most children learn how to control their bladders by age 6 or 7.
  • Insomnia is the inability to fall or remain asleep and can last from a few nights to months or years. It can be caused by jet lag, stress and anxiety, hormones, or digestive problems, or it can be a sign of another disease or condition.
  • Restless leg syndrome (RLS) is an inexplicable urge to move your legs, sometimes with a tingling sensation.

Other causes of sleep disturbance include sleep apnea, teeth grinding, allergies and colds, snoring, frequent urination, fibromyalgia, and nightmares. Sleep apnea causes breathing interruptions during your sleep, and teeth grinding (which is called bruxism) can cause you to wake up during the night.

Allergies, colds, coughing, and upper respiratory infections can make it difficult for you to breathe at night. Snoring can also disturb your sleep, and if it is loud enough, it may wake you up. Frequent urination, which is called nocturia, will cause you to wake up during the night and may disrupt your sleep.

When you have pain or fibromyalgia, you may find it difficult to sleep without interruption. People who have body-wide pain and tenderness may have fibromyalgia. The cause of fibromyalgia is not known, but doctors believe one of the causes may be linked to sleep problems. If you have bad dreams or nightmares, they may disrupt your sleep. You may also feel emotionally tired after a nightmare because nightmares leave people with negative emotional thoughts. You may even sleepwalk after having a nightmare.

How Are Sleep Disorders/Disturbances Diagnosed?

If your sleep disturbances don’t clear up after several days, you may want to see your doctor to find out if there is a serious underlying cause. After an exam, your doctor may recommend the following tests:

  • polysomnography – a sleep study
  • electroencephalogram (EEG)
  • genetic blood testing in the rare case of narcolepsy (unpredictable bouts of falling asleep)

How Are Sleep Disorders/Disturbances Treated?

Treatment for sleep disturbances depends on the causes and can include any of the following:

  • addressing bedwetting and potty training issues
  • sleeping pills
  • melatonin supplements
  • allergy or cold medication
  • addressing other health conditions
  • medications for any underlying health issues
  • breathing device or surgery to address sleep apnea
  • using a dental guard for teeth grinding
  • weight loss
  • having a regular sleeping schedule
  • psychotherapy
  • decreasing stress and anxiety
  • decreasing evening water consumption
  • decreasing or limiting caffeine intake
  • decreasing tobacco and alcohol use

Find the Best Medications for Insomnia »

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