Signs and Symptoms of a Sleep Disorder

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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Recent research shows we should get 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night to stay healthy, focused and productive. But more than just quantity, quality counts, too. Even if you’re in bed for your nightly “eight hours,” the symptoms of a sleep disorder may be preventing you from getting your best rest.

For the 40 million Americans each year living with long-term sleep disorders, the effects of chronic sleep deprivation can result in diminished memory, risky behavior, slowed reaction time, emotional problems, and serious health conditions like heart disease. By knowing the signs and symptoms of a sleep disorder, you can work quickly with your doctor to get an accurate diagnosis and begin treatment as soon as possible.

Sleep Disorder Symptoms

Everyone has a bad night every once in a while, but if you experience any of these sleep disorder symptoms regularly, discuss them with your doctor:

  • Trouble falling asleep

  • Trouble staying asleep

  • Waking up tired

  • Feeling tired throughout the day

  • Depending on caffeine to stay alert

Sleep disorders can appear in many forms, and they all affect your quality of life. The right treatment can help you get back to getting good sleep.

Common Sleep Disorders

There are approximately 80 types of sleep disorders. Different types have specific symptoms:

  • Sleep apnea symptoms include an interruption in breathing during the night. Eighteen million Americans have sleep apnea. Treatment options include lifestyle changes such as weight loss, using a device to keep the airway open during sleep, and surgery.

  • Insomnia is the inability to fall asleep or stay asleep. It affects approximately 30% of women and 40% of men at some time in their lives. For short-term insomnia, doctors may prescribe sleep medication. For long-term insomnia, doctors may recommend a combination of medication and behavioral therapy.

  • Restless legs syndrome (RLS) affects 10% of people in the United States. The hallmark symptom is a feeling of crawling or prickling on your legs and feet that makes you want to move them. Medications are available to relieve the symptoms of RLS.

How Doctors Diagnose Sleep Disorders

Your doctor will talk with you to understand your problem sleeping and may suggest keeping a sleep diary for two weeks to track your patterns. Your doctor may also recommend tests to identify underlying medical conditions as a root cause.

To get more information for diagnosis and treatment, your doctor may work with a sleep specialist to arrange a sleep study, also called a polysomnogram. A sleep study records your heart rhythms, breathing, and brain activity while you sleep. Today, some sleep studies can be done at home, while others are performed in a sleep lab.

Sleep is too important to our mental, emotional and physical health to “soldier on” through restless nights. Talk with your doctor about improving your sleep for better well-being around the clock.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 May 20
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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