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4 Common Sleep Disorders: Symptoms and Management

Mar 03, 2022 01:00PM ● By Candice Stewart

Sleep disorders (also known as sleep-wake disorders) refer to conditions that affect sleep quality, timing, or duration and impact a person’s ability to properly function while they are awake. These disorders often take place in conjunction with medical conditions or mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, or cognitive disorders. 

According to the American Psychiatric Association, sleep difficulties are linked to both physical and emotional issues. They also report that about one-third of adults report insomnia symptoms and 6-10 percent meet the criteria for insomnia disorder.

In terms of criteria and classification, The Sleep Foundation shares that in 1979, the American Sleep Disorders Association published the first classification system dedicated to sleep disorders. The classification systems used today use complex methodologies to categorize disorders based on causes, symptoms, physiological, psychological effects, and other criteria. 

In general terms, though, there are four signs that can be used to categorize sleep disorders. They are: 

  • You have trouble falling and staying asleep

  • You find it difficult to stay awake during the day

  • You are prone to unusual behaviors that disrupt your sleep

  • There are imbalances in your circadian rhythm that interfere with a healthy sleep schedule 

Four common sleep disorders are sleep apnea, insomnia, restless legs syndrome (RLS), and narcolepsy.


Sleep Apnea

The CDC states that snoring may be a sign of sleep apnea and not just an annoying habit.

Characteristically, people with sleep apnea make periodic gasping or snorting noises during which their sleep is momentarily interrupted. People with sleep apnea may also experience excessive daytime sleepiness as their nighttime sleep is commonly disrupted and they may not be well-rested. 

There are two types of sleep apnea, as shared by the Cleveland Clinic. They are: 

  • Obstructive sleep apnea - it is the more common and is caused by a blockage of the airway

  • Central sleep apnea - though the airway is not blocked, the brain fails to tell the body to breathe.


As interruption of regular breathing or obstruction of the airway during sleep may pose serious health complications, the symptoms of sleep apnea should be taken seriously.

It is recommended that treatment be sought from a healthcare provider. Additionally, it is important to note that the course of action is often dependent on the cause of the disorder. 

In the case of the presence of other medical problems such as congestive heart failure or nasal obstruction, gentle air pressure administered during sleep (typically in the form of a nasal continuous positive airway pressure device) may also be effective in the treatment of sleep apnea. 



The Cleveland Clinic shares that narcolepsy is a neurological disorder of sleep regulation that affects the control of sleep and wakefulness. 

People with the disorder experience excessive daytime sleepiness and intermittent, uncontrollable episodes of falling asleep (often referred to as ‘sleep attacks’) during the day. These episodes may occur at any time of the day and during any type of activity. The sleep episodes are also combined with sudden muscle weakness.

The Sleep Foundation shares that there are two types of narcolepsy: Narcolepsy Type 1 (also known as NT1 or narcolepsy with cataplexy), which is the sudden loss of muscle tone,  and Narcolepsy Type 2 (referred to as NT2 or narcolepsy without cataplexy). 

It is stated by the Cleveland Clinic that in many cases, narcolepsy is undiagnosed and therefore goes untreated. Though diagnoses and treatment are rare, in cases where it happens, healthcare providers may treat it with stimulant medication and a combination of behavioral interventions.

Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS)

According to the CDC, RLS is characterized by an unpleasant “creeping” sensation which often feels like it is originating from the lower legs, but is usually associated with aches and pains throughout the legs. It tends to cause difficulty initiating sleep and is relieved by movement of the leg such as kicking and sometimes walking.  Additionally, abnormalities in the neurotransmitter, dopamine have often been associated with this sleep disorder. The Cleveland Clinic adds that RLS can be associated with problems with daytime sleepiness, irritability, and concentration.

In terms of treatment, the CDC shares that healthcare providers often combine medication to help correct the underlying dopamine abnormality along with a medicine to promote sleep continuity. 


As reported by The Sleep Foundation, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine’s ICSD-3 manual, insomnia is “a persistent difficulty with sleep initiation, duration, consolidation, or quality.” 

The Sleep Foundation also states that the diagnosis of insomnia hinges on two essential components: 

  • Sleep difficulty  that occurs despite adequate opportunities for normal sleep

  • A daytime impairment that directly results from poor sleep quality and duration

There are three general types of insomnia: chronic insomnia, short-term insomnia, and other insomnia - and while insomnia may manifest in various ways, it generally falls into two categories: sleep-onset insomnia and sleep maintenance insomnia. 

The Sleep Foundation shares that the causes include: behavioral and mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety; the ingestion or consumption of substances that may negatively impact sleep such as alcohol, nicotine, other drugs, and caffeine; and health problems that cause general physical pain and discomfort. 

Tips on How to Manage Sleep DIsorders 

 Source: The Sleep Foundation

Sleep Disorders and Race: Food for Thought

Did you know that the National Sleep Foundation executes a ‘Sleep in America Poll’ that gathers responses about key aspects of sleep behavior? In 2010, the poll highlighted distinct responses from racial and ethnic groups and they found that Black respondents reported the least amount of sleep on the weekdays.

The Sleep Foundation also shares that a number of health surveys have found similar results with higher rates of short sleep among Black people than other groups. Sleep apnea was found to be noticeably more common and severe in Black people and particularly for Black young adults. They state, as well, that studies have also found higher rates of long sleep (greater than 9 hours a night) among the Black population.

In this Washington Post article, it is reported that according to a paper written by a psychology professor at Fordham University, Tiffany Yip, the sleep gap between white and non-white students begins with children as young as 2-years-old, and it grows from there. What starts as a 15-minutes-a day deficit eventually becomes an hour a night in adulthood.

The difference, she reports, is not just of time. She references the Sleep Foundation to say that African Americans are more likely than Caucasians to have insomnia, sleep apnea, and daytime sleepiness. Additionally, it is reported that they spend 15 percent of their night in deep sleep, which is considered the most restorative phase, compared to the 20 percent that Caucasians get.


An article published in 2005 by The Atlantic does a deep dive into exploring the Racial Inequality of Sleep. For the continuity of this article, we focus on a small portion.

The writer, Brian Resnick, shares the following:

“Fifteen years ago, the intersection of sleep and race wasn’t studied much at all. Researchers in the sleep field “hadn’t really thought about this idea—by race, by economic status—that people had different amounts of sleep,” says Diane Lauderdale, an epidemiologist at the University of Chicago. In the early 2000s, Lauderdale was part of an effort that was one of the first to find racial differences in sleep using objective measurements, as opposed to self-reports. Studying a 669-person cohort in Chicago—44 percent were black; the rest were white—she and her colleagues found, on average, an hour difference between blacks’ and whites’ sleep.

What’s more, the sleep discrepancy persisted even when the researchers tried to control for economic factors: As [Black people] got wealthier, the gap in sleep narrowed but did not go away entirely. “The race gap is decreased if you take into account some indicator of economics,” says Lauderdale, “but it’s not eliminated in the data that I have looked at.” Indeed, in the San Diego study, researchers also concluded that there were racial differences in sleep regardless of income. (It should be noted, however, that researchers concede their attempts to control for economic indicators are far from perfect. “We know our measures for adjusting for socioeconomic status are still somewhat limited,” says Redline. “Sometimes the variation isn’t great enough.”)

So what explains the gap? It’s an intriguing and still somewhat open-ended scientific mystery. (And one that is gradually getting more and more attention: In July [0f 2005], the radio program Freakonomics dedicated a segment to documenting the discrepancy and trying to explain why it might exist.) But the Black-White sleep gap isn’t just a question for science; it also has implications for the policy world. Sleep, after all, may be a key factor in a tragic spiral: It appears to be both a symptom of health problems that disproportionately affect Black communities and also a cause of those same problems. [This is the reason it] seems worth asking: Are there policy interventions that could, realistically, help to improve how Black Americans sleep?”


Interestingly, the ‘sleep gap’ mentioned by Resnick is addressed by a professor of family, population, and preventative medicine at Stone Brook University, Lauren Hale. In the Washington Post article, it is stated that Professor Hale refers to it as “a matter of social justice”. She identifies two other significant predictors in addition to race: level of education (those without a high school diploma are more likely to have sleep disorders) and neighborhood context (city dwellers typically sleep less than those outside the urban core).

“Hale said of her findings in a 2013 TEDx Talk, "If the very people who are the most socially disadvantaged and most need that extra boost to function better during their days wake up the least prepared, then they are at a disadvantage throughout every aspect of their day," says the Washington Post piece.

Disclaimer: This article is solely to provide knowledge in a digestible manner. We acknowledge that this topic goes much deeper and wider than we have presented. We do not claim to be healthcare providers and we are not offering advice on how to treat sleep disorders. FunTimes Magazine encourages all persons to seek professional medical assistance with the proper treatment and management of any sleep disorder.


Sleep Disorders - The Sleep Foundation

What Are Sleep DIsorders? - American Psychiatric Association 

Key Sleep DIsorders - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Common Sleep Disorders - The Cleveland Clinic

Study finds connection between race and sleep - The Washington Post

The Racial Inequality of Sleep - The Atlantic

Insomnia - The Sleep Foundation

Narcolepsy - The Sleep Foundation

What’s the Connection Between Race and Sleep Disorders? - The Sleep Foundation

 Candice Stewart is a Jamaican content writer specializing in human interest feature stories. She is a web content writer, blogger, and budding podcaster.

She holds an MA in Communication for Social and Behaviour Change and a BSc. in Psychology from the University of the West Indies (UWI, Mona).

Follow her blog at, where she shares stories and life lessons through real-life experiences.

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