6 Common Sleep Disorders and How to Prevent Each

Seems like every night is a battle, trying to get a decent night’s sleep despite anxiety, pain and other issues. In fact, there are several sleep disorders that may be affecting your sleep -- and with treatment, you can get the restorative sleep your body needs to stay healthy.

What Is a Sleep Disorder?

A sleep disorder is a condition that causes a change in how someone sleeps. A disorder can affect the duration and quality of your sleep, leading to sleep deprivation and frequent daytime fatigue. 

Mood swings, poor concentration and reduced productivity can result from a sleep disorder.

Why You Should Take Sleep Disorders Seriously

Good quality sleep is key for both our physical and our mental health. A sleep disorder disrupts sleep and the important functions it performs. Not only does sleep help repair our bodies and prepare them for the next day, sleep also helps strengthen our immune system and plays a role in consolidating memories.

A sleep disorder which goes untreated can increase your risk of serious health problems such as heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke and diabetes. 

However, once diagnosed, a sleep disorder can usually be treated, reducing the symptoms of the disorder and reducing the risk of the serious health complications linked to sleep disorders.

The following are 6 common sleep disorders.

Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea causes short cessations to breathing as you sleep, and in severe cases this can occur up to 30 times every hour. 

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is the most common form of sleep apnea, with breathing difficulties caused by blocked or collapsed airways when asleep. The brain prompts the body to awake for air when it detects a drop in oxygen levels, and sometimes you may awake gasping for air.

Prevent/Treat OSA: One of the primary contributing factors for sleep apnea is being overweight, and therefore lifestyle changes involving a more nutritious diet and more exercise will be recommended. 

A leading treatment for obstructive sleep apnea is continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy, where you breathe in pressurized air through a special mask worn overnight that helps keep your airways open.


When you have insomnia, you are struggling to fall asleep or stay asleep. If this occurs on a number of nights through the course of a week and over an extended period of time, you may have chronic insomnia. 

Anxiety, stress and change of routines can be the primary causes of anxiety. Adults are recommended to get 7-9 hours of sleep every night, but this will be disrupted by insomnia which can leave you fatigued, irritable and depressed.

Prevent/Treat Insomnia: As stress can cause insomnia, your physician may discuss techniques such as mediation to help you relax, as well as further ways to deal with your stress. 

Insomnia and stress can be a vicious circle as you start to worry about getting to sleep, adding to the stress levels which are preventing you from sleeping. 

Your physician may prescribe medication to help you sleep, and advise certain lifestyle changes to promote sleep (avoiding alcohol and caffeine), as well as adapting a routine prior to bed.


This is a neurological disorder which can see someone full asleep at any given moment, even while driving. When you have narcolepsy, the brain’s ability to manage the sleep-wake cycle is affected. 

Daytime fatigue, hallucinations, a sudden loss of muscle control and sleep paralysis are some of the symptoms of narcolepsy.

Prevent/Treat Narcolepsy: Narcolepsy can often be managed with lifestyle changes and medication. A central nervous system stimulant such as Modafinil is often first prescribed as it has fewer side effects and is less addictive. 

Lifestyle changes which may accompany medication include regular short naps, daily exercise, a regular sleep and night time routine -- and no alcohol, caffeine or heavy meals before bedtime.

Restless Leg Syndrome

Restless leg syndrome is a disorder of the nervous system. People who experience this disorder have a powerful urge to move their legs as they can have a sensation of crawling, itching or throbbing in the legs. 

This is a fairly common disorder, affecting around 10% of Americans, although women are more likely to have restless leg syndrome, while those who are middle aged can often experience more severe symptoms.

Prevent/Treat Restless Leg Syndrome: Treatments like medications can help control this disorder, allowing you to get the important rest you need. 

Lifestyle changes such as exercise, a sleep routine and avoiding caffeine, alcohol and tobacco may help with mild to moderate symptoms. Hot baths and leg massages can also relieve symptoms.

Sleep Paralysis

Sleep paralysis can be a frightening experience, as you are unable to move while feeling conscious and awake. This disorder happens between the stage of sleep and wakefulness, and can sometimes last for minutes. 

In worse-case scenarios, some people also sense a feeling of pressure, usually on the chest, or a sense of being choked. Sleep paralysis can occur either when you are falling asleep or when you are waking up.

Prevent/Treat Sleep Paralysis: Sleep paralysis often accompanies another sleep disorder such as narcolepsy, and it is the underlying condition which usually gets treated. 

Introducing a regular sleep schedule, addressing causes of stress and anxiety, as well as being prescribed appropriate medication can help treat the underlying causes contributing to your sleep paralysis.


Night terrors, sleepwalking, sleep paralysis and sleep-related eating disorders are all examples of parasomnias, classed as disruptive sleep-related disorders. 

A parasomnia describes an unusual physical movement or experience which can occur at any point of the sleep-wake cycle. The common link is that such disorders disrupt your sleep, although they can occur more commonly in children than adults.

Prevent/Treat Parasomnias: Parasomnias are treated according to the underlying cause, which could be issues such as a fever, stress and substance abuse. 

Medication may be prescribed in some instances, while you will also need to consider ensuring you have a safe sleeping environment, one which does not hold potential dangers when experiencing parasomnias.

Final Thoughts

If you’re having difficulty sleeping, speak with your doctor about your symptoms. It’s critically important that you get a good night’s sleep, every night, to avoid serious conditions like heart disease and diabetes. 

Your sleep problem might be relatively easy to fix with a few lifestyle changes. But if you need medical treatment, your doctor needs to get involved. 

By taking control of your sleep problems, you’ll improve your overall health -- and feel so much better every day -- to enjoy the day.