The Most Common Types of Sleep Disorders Explained

by John Masters

Sleep disorders (also sometimes referred to as somnipathy) are disorders that interrupt a person’s normal sleep patterns. In order for a sleep disorder to be classified as such, it must take place on a more or less regular basis. Occasional or rare sleep disruptions do not constitute as sleep disorders. Some sleep disorders cause problems with mental and emotional functioning while others manifest themselves in physical ways.

Some of the most common sleep disorders include bruxism, delayed sleep phase syndrome (PSPS), hypopnea syndrome, insomnia, jet lag (or desynchronosis), narcolepsy, night terror (or sleep terror disorder, also referred to by its scientific name which is Pavor nocturnus), parasomnias, periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD) and rapid eye movement behavior disorder (RBD).

Other types of sleep disorders include restless legs syndrome (RLS), shift work sleep disorder (SWSD), sleep apnea, sleep paralysis, sleepwalking (also known as somnambulism) and snoring.

Sleep experts break down sleep disorders into three categories. These categories include:

  1. Dysomnias
  2. Parasomnias
  3. Medical or Psychiatric Conditions


Dysomnias take in a vast array of sleep disorders that are connected to either insomnia or hypersomnolence. Three subcategories of dysomnias are intrinsic (meaning that the origin comes from within the body), extrinsic (meaning that its origin is related to environmental or a variety of pathological reasons) and thirdly, disturbances related to the circadian rhythm of the body.

Examples of dysomnias include insomnia, narcolepsy, restless legs syndrome, obstructive sleep apnea, hypersomnia, recurrent hypersomnia, periodic limb movement disorder, posttraumatic hypersomnia, ‘healthy’ hypersomnia, circadian rhythm sleep disorders, delayed sleep phase syndrome, advanced sleep phase syndrome and non-24-hour sleep-wake syndrome.


Parasomnias include sleep disorders such as REM sleep behavior disorder, sleep terror, sleepwalking (also called somnambulism), teeth grinding (or bruxism), sleep enuresis (bed-wetting), sudden infant death syndrome (or SIDS) and sleep talking (also referred to as somniloquy).

Psychiatric or Medical Problems

The third and final category of sleep disorders is psychiatric or medical problems that could serve to disrupt regular sleep patterns. Examples include psychoses (such as schizophrenia), mood disorders, anxiety, depression, alcoholism, panic, and sleeping sickness (which can be caused by the Tsetse fly). Please note that snoring is not considered a disorder on its own although it can be the symptom of a greater health problem and it can lead to more serious problems such as sleep apnea.

Factors Involoved

There are varieties of factors that can cause a sleep disorder to begin. Lifestyle changes often play a role such as in those who work shift work (shirt work sleep disorder or abbreviated to SWSD). Other problems that can wreck havoc with consistent sleep patterns include pain or problems with the neck, shoulders or back, sciatica, noise in the environment, incontinence, a room that is too cold, too hot, too dark or too light and a variety of drugs, prescription or otherwise. A number of different drugs can affect sleep in its various stages and often taking sleeping pills or sedatives can make problems even worse because it disrupts the normal sleep pattern even more.

If you snore or find yourself extremely tired throughout the day and unable to concentrate on ordinary daily tasks it would be wise to go see your doctor. As well keeping a diary about your sleep habits can work as a helpful tool when it comes to diagnosing a sleep disorder.