If you’ve been struggling with sleep for a while now, it could be explained by something simple, like too much caffeine or not enough regular exercise. In both of these cases, the problem can usually be reversed by changing day-to-day habits.
But for some people, sleep problems can only be explained by an underlying condition like a sleep disorder. Sleep disorders affect over 70 million Americans, and this number just applies to the ones who have actually been diagnosed.
Insomnia is the most common disorder relating to sleep, but it’s not the only one. There are actually over 100 of them, but these are the most common ones that people regularly suffer from:
- Sleep Apnea
- Sleep-Wake Phase Disorder
- Night Terrors
- Restless Legs Syndromes
The American Sleep Association says that insomnia “is a common sleep disorder that is characterized by having recurring difficulty sleeping, including falling asleep and staying asleep.”
This sleep disorder can actually be caused by many different things. Trouble sleeping due to insomnia might have to do with mental issues like anxiety and PTSD, it might have to do with physical issues like chronic pain or allergies, or it could be a symptom of a medication you’ve been prescribed.
A study on sleep disorders from The Sleep Foundation found that anywhere between 10 and 30% of people are suffering from some form of insomnia. Sleep-onset insomnia is what makes falling asleep more difficult while sleep-maintenance insomnia makes it hard to remain asleep.
There are a few different methods used for treating insomnia, but the first thing to try is changing overall sleep habits. Refer to our Sleep Hygiene guide for more info on this.
Sleep Apnea is a breathing disorder related to sleep when breathing repeatedly starts and stops throughout the night. The most common form of this disorder is Obstructive Sleep Apnea, which is caused by physiological factors like a narrow throat, large tongue, smaller lower jaw, or obesity.
There’s also Central Sleep, which is when the brain doesn’t send the right signals to the body’s breathing muscles. Last is complex sleep apnea, which is a combination of both obstructive and central SA.
Determining whether or not you have sleep apnea can be difficult. The most common symptom is snoring loudly, but here are a few more things that are often caused by sleep apnea:
- Episodes where you stop breathing during sleep (this would be reported by someone else)
- Gasping for air during sleep
- Waking up with a dry mouth
- Headache in the morning
- Difficulty staying asleep (insomnia)
- Excessive daytime sleepiness (hypersomnia)
- Difficulty paying attention while awake
- Irritability throughout the day
Narcolepsy is characterized by something called “sleep attacks”, which are pretty much exactly as they sound. Someone struggling with narcolepsy would experience overwhelming fits of sleepiness throughout the day, and then just suddenly fall asleep without any warning.
As you can imagine, randomly falling asleep can cause some serious disruptions to a daily routine. The sleep attack can happen anywhere at any time, which pretty much rules out things like driving, swimming alone, and operating heavy machinery.
Unfortunately, there’s no known cure for narcolepsy, but the symptoms and sleep attacks can be managed with the right medication and some lifestyle changes.
Sleep-Wake Phase Disorder
SWPD isn’t as talked about as insomnia or narcolepsy, but it’s just as common. All sleep-wake disorders are characterized by disruptions in a person’s internal clock, which causes them to feel alert or tired at random times throughout the day.
Sleep-Wake Phase Disorder is characterized by the inability to fall asleep, and it’s also common to fail to wake up at the intended time. Even if you want to fall asleep at 11 and wake up at 7, someone with SWPD has no control of that.
Sleepwalking & Night Terrors
Both sleepwalking and night terrors are disorders that fall into a category called parasomnias. All parasomnias (there are quite a few of them) include unusual behaviors before sleeping, while sleeping, and the transitional wake-up period.
Sleepwalkers have a habit of getting out of bed and moving around, sometimes even performing ordinary tasks, all while still sleeping. This disorder is formally known as somnambulism and is more common in children than adults. It’s also more likely to happen if the person is sleep deprived.
Night terrors, also called sleep terrors, are “episodes of screaming, intense fear and flailing while still asleep,” according to Mayo Clinic. These episodes usually only last for a few seconds, but they can still be terrifying (which explains the name of this disorder).
Sleepwalking and night terrors are often paired together, and it’s not uncommon for someone who sleepwalks to be woken by an episode.
Restless Legs Syndrome
Restless Legs Syndrome, RLS for short, falls under the category of sleep-related movement disorders. This specific condition causes an uncontrollable urge to move your legs, usually because of an uncomfortable feeling or sensation.
With RLS, the symptoms almost always happen in the evening or nighttime hours while sitting or lying down. A lot of people feel the need to get up and move around since this can bring a feeling of relief (but only temporarily).
Nobody knows the exact cause of RLS, but researchers think it has to do with dopamine imbalances in the brain. The good news is that making some basic lifestyle changes can help with the symptoms, and there are also some medications that have been approved by the FDA.
How do I know if I have insomnia or just poor sleep related to bad habits?
It’s normal for all of us to experience some trouble sleeping from time to time. But it’s not until it becomes a regular thing that it can be diagnosed as chronic insomnia. The main difference between occasional poor sleep vs chronic insomnia according to The Sleep Foundation has everything to do with frequency:
“Acute, or short-term, insomnia is defined as experiencing insomnia over a period of a few weeks to a few months…Long-term, or chronic, insomnia, however, is a different condition, one in which someone experiences an inability to sleep or consistently wakes up halfway through the night over months or even years.”
Is using CBD a possible solution to my sleep disorder?
Honestly, it really depends on the specific disorder as well as the individual. For an unordinary sleep disorder like narcolepsy, probably not, but for something like insomnia that’s triggered by stress or anxiety, possibly. Since everyone is different, there’s no yes or no answer.