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Sleep Problems and Disorders - Types and Symptoms

Sleep Problems and Disorders - Types and Symptoms
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Sleep is essential for our overall health and well-being. It gives our body a chance to recharge, helps our memory, and keeps everything in our body running smoothly. However, for many, getting a restful night's sleep can be a challenge from various sleep disorders and problems.

Understanding the different types of sleep problems and what signs to look out for can be very beneficial. This way, you can get the right help and improve your sleep quality.


Insomnia is when you have ongoing difficulty falling or staying asleep. Building a good sleep routine can help overcome insomnia. For tips on how to practise good sleep hygiene and build a solid sleep routine click here. You may suffer from insomnia if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Difficulty falling asleep.
  • Waking up throughout the night or lying awake during the night.
  • Waking early and not being able to go back asleep.
  • Feeling fatigued the following morning.
  • Difficulty concentrating during the day because you're tired.

Some of the main reasons for insomnia include:

  • Smoking or consuming caffeine too close to bedtime.
  • Using technology such as TV or phones too close to bedtime.
  • Loud or noisy conditions.
  • A room that's too hot or too cold.
  • An uncomfortable bed.
  • Stress, anxiety or depression.
  • Jet lag

You should speak with a GP if changing your sleep routine doesn’t help, symptoms go on for months or if they start to affect your daily life.



Narcolepsy is a brain condition that affects the brain's ability to regulate sleep-wake cycles. It is characterised by excessive daytime sleepiness and sudden attacks of sleep.

The brain is unable to regulate sleep patterns which can lead to symptoms including:

  • Sleep attacks – this is where you fall asleep suddenly, without warning.
  • Sleep paralysis.
  • Cataplexy – sudden temporary muscle weakness or loss of muscular control.
  • Excessive daytime sleeping.
  • Excessive dreaming and constant night-time wake ups.
  • Hallucinations.
  • Headaches.
  • Depression.

Although it’s rare, it’s a long-term condition so can seriously affect your daily life. Some of the triggers can include:

  • Infections.
  • Inherited genetic fault.
  • Hormonal changes.
  • Major psychological stress.
  • A sudden change in sleep patterns.
  • Having the flu vaccine Pandemrix (not been used here since 2011).

Following a good sleep routine and practising good sleep hygiene may help narcolepsy. You should speak with a GP if changing your sleep routine doesn’t help.

Night Terrors

A person suffering from night terrors may appear awake with their eyes open, screaming and shouting while thrashing around. However, they’re not fully awake. Night terrors happen at least once, early in the night and can continue for 15 minutes.

Although night terrors are more common for people with family history of so, it can still occur for people who are stressed or have suffered from a trauma. Other conditions can also cause them including migraines, obstructive sleep apnoea and restless legs syndrome.

Obstructive Sleep Apnoea

Obstructive sleep apnoea occurs when your breathing stops and starts while you’re sleeping. This is a result of your throat relaxing and narrowing, blocking the flow of air to your lungs. Symptoms include:

  • Snoring loudly.
  • Snorting or gasping.
  • Long pauses between breaths.
  • Breathing noisily.

Obstructive sleep apnoea is more common in people who are overweight, over the age of 40 or male. Other links include family history, asthma, smoking, alcohol, high blood pressure, menopause, nasal congestion and medicines.

If left untreated, it can lead to other health conditions so it’s best to speak with your GP if you feel you may be suffering from obstructive sleep apnoea. Mild sleep apnoea can be treated through lifestyle changes such as losing weight, changing your sleeping position or giving up smoking. However, moderate to severe sleep apnoea may require you using a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine.


Sleepwalking occurs when you walk, or in some cases complex activities like driving, while you’re not fully asleep. Your eyes will be open, but you will look through people, like they aren’t there. You could get out of bed, get dressed and even eat. You will have no memory of this the following morning or be confused if you awake during the episode.

Although the reason behind sleepwalking is not known, we do know it seems to run in families. We also know some triggers for sleepwalking, including:

  • Consuming too much alcohol.
  • Taking recreational drugs.
  • Lack of sleep.
  • Stress and anxiety.
  • Infection with a fever.
  • Certain medication e.g. sedatives
  • If you’ve been woken sudden by noise or touch.

If you come across someone sleepwalking, it’s best to just ensure the environment around them is safe and guide them back to bed. Do not shout or physically restrain them as they may lash out. Following a good sleeping schedule and practising good sleep hygiene may help sleepwalking.

Sleep Paralysis

Sleep paralysis occurs when you’re unable to move or speak when you wake up or trying to fall asleep. Although it’s harmless, it can be quite scary.

Although there is no clear reason why sleep paralysis occurs but there are some symptoms that are linked to it, and they include:

  • Insomnia.
  • Narcolepsy.
  • PTSD.
  • Panic disorder.
  • Disrupted sleeping patterns.
  • Anxiety.
  • Family history.

Following a good sleep routine and practising good sleeping habits may help sleep paralysis.

Understanding sleep problems and disorders is crucial for maintaining our overall health and well-being. Recognising the symptoms and types of sleep disturbances can help you identify when it's time to seek professional advice or make lifestyle changes to improve your sleep quality.

Whether it's insomnia, narcolepsy, night terrors, obstructive sleep apnoea, sleepwalking, or sleep paralysis, being informed empowers you to take proactive steps towards better sleep. Don't hesitate to reach out to a healthcare provider if your sleep issues persist, as effective treatments and interventions are available.

Prioritising good sleep hygiene and a consistent sleep routine can significantly enhance your sleep quality and, consequently, your quality of life. Sleep well, and take care of your health.