Sleep Disorder Basics – Types of Sleep Disorders


 Of the more than 80 different existing types of sleep disorders, most can be grouped into one of three categories:

  • Disturbed sleep – This would consist of any condition that causes sleep to be restless, frequently interrupted, or of a poor quality in general. Examples of sleep disorders that disturb sleep include sleep apnea and restless legs syndrome both of which can make sustaining sleep difficult.
  • Too much sleep – This would consist of any condition that causes a person to sleep more than what is considered necessary or healthful. Narcolepsy – which causes excessive sleepiness and uncontrollable “sleep attacks” – and depression – which can create feelings of lethargy – are both examples of conditions that may cause a person to sleep too much.
  • Too little sleep – This would consist of any condition that robs a person of the optimal amount of sleep. Insomnia – characterized by difficulty falling or staying asleep -- is an example of a condition that can cause people to sleep too little.
Many sleep disorders result in sleep deprivation. An easy way to measure sleep deprivation is to consider how much time you need to fall asleep. Most people need a certain amount of time to fall into a deep slumber. If you fall asleep very quickly, for example within the first 5 minutes of lying down, it’s a strong indication that you are very sleep deprived.

Sleep disorders may be characterized as either primary or secondary. Primary sleep disorders are not attributed to other conditions. An example would be restless legs syndrome caused by genetics. Secondary sleep disorders are due to an underlying physical or mental condition. For example, insomnia may be due to depression or some other underlying physiological cause that warrants treatment.

Often, a primary sleep disorder can give rise to a secondary sleep disorder. For example, someone who has restless legs syndrome also may develop insomnia as a result of his or her chronic inability to sleep soundly. Treating the symptoms of the primary sleep disorder often will improve symptoms of other sleep disorders that may be present.

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