We look at types of sleep disorders and common symptoms.

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It is no surprise that everyone needs sleep. It is crucial for so many bodily functions, including heart health, immunity, weight stabilization and more. While adults should aim to get around seven to nine hours a night, that can be easier said than done. We have all experienced nights where we toss and turn for what seems like endless hours, only to wake up groggy and not feeling our best. Over time, not sleeping enough can lead to undesirable consequences like memory impairment, damaged skin and increased risk for depression and anxiety. But when does a sleepless night or two turn into a sleep disorder? Read on to learn about the signs and symptoms of two common sleep disorders so you can see if it's time to get some help.

Young Woman Covering Pillow Lying On Bed Against Wall At Home
Credit: Getty Images / Srinrat Wuttichaikitcharoen / EyeEm

What Is a Sleep Disorder?

The American Psychiatric Association defines sleep disorders as "problems with quality, timing and amount of sleep, which result in daytime distress and impairment in functioning." While it is inevitable that some nights of sleep will be worse than others, sleep disorders reflect a pattern of disrupted sleep due to trouble falling asleep, disrupted sleep imbalances in your circadian rhythm or difficulty staying awake during the day. There are more than 100 different kinds of sleep disorders, and each can have its own set of signs and symptoms.

Here are some of the symptoms to look for, according to the National Sleep Foundation. If you're experiencing any of them, check with your doctor or a sleep specialist.

Signs of Insomnia

One of the most common sleep disorders is called insomnia, affecting around 33% American adults. The National Sleep Foundation defines insomnia as a sleep disorder that disturbs a person's ability to fall asleep and/or stay asleep. It might involve waking up too early or struggling to return to sleep after awakening during the night. While this sleep disorder is common, it is also a complex condition that goes beyond an occasional sleepless night. Over time, experiencing insomnia can take a toll on your energy levels, mood, productivity and cognitive skills. Some common signs of insomnia include:

  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Waking up repeatedly or for long periods during the night
  • Morning fatigue
  • Moodiness, irritability or depression
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Relationship problems
  • Forgetfulness
  • Increased errors or accidents
  • Ongoing anxiety about sleep

Signs of Sleep Apnea

Another common sleep disorder is known as sleep apnea. The most common form of this disorder is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), which is characterized by the muscles in the back of the throat relaxing and blocking the airway when you breathe in. This loss of oxygen will trigger your brain to send awakening signals to the body. Sleepers might not notice this sudden reaction, but it can lead to snorting or choking for air in the process. For those with OSA, this can happen anywhere from five to 30 times per hour. Here are some common signs of sleep apnea:

  • Loud snoring
  • Frequent nighttime awakenings
  • Waking up with a dry mouth
  • Daytime fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Irritability
  • Lack of focus
  • Night sweats
  • Frequent need to urinate at night
  • Sexual dysfunction

The Bottom Line

Many people experience sleep disorders, so if you identify with some of these symptoms know that you are not alone. Sleep is important for several bodily functions from head to toe. While inadequate sleep can make day-to-day life challenging, there are options for treatment. Reach out to your doctor or a sleep specialist if you think you might have a sleep disorder.