Common Sleep Issues

Every night is the same. You find yourself tossing and turning and tossing and turning. You’re unable to drift into that blissful Neverland that you know your body needs. You try to get up and move around. You try to read a book. You try to go back to bed. Nothing seems to work. You glance at the clock. You toss and turn some more. You begin to rehash your day, your duties, and your to-do list over and over. You toss and turn one more time. Finally, you doze off just about an hour or two before your alarm clock starts blaring. You wake up in a sleepy daze and start your day.

Does this sound like one of the sleep disturbances you’re facing? There are a ton of sleep issues that plague Americans each year. More than 120 million Americans suffer from some kind of sleep issue. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state that between 50 and 70 million people have a wakefulness or sleep disorder. If you can’t figure out what’s causing your sleep to be disrupted, read on to see the most common sleep issues and what you can do to treat them. You should always speak to your Doctor is you suspect you are suffering from poor sleep or a sleep disorder.

What are some common sleep issues and how can you treat them?

Sleep Deprivation

If you’re feeling extremely tired, find yourself nodding off during the middle of the day, or seem to be gaining or losing weight with no explanation, you could be suffering from sleep deprivation and not even know it. Sleep deprivation occurs when your body isn’t getting enough sleep or is constantly going to sleep at the wrong time of the day. Sleep deprivation may be a symptom of an undiagnosed sleep disorder.

If you are sleep deprived, it can increase your chances of heart disease, stroke, obesity, and depression. A lack of sleep is also one of the leading causes of sleep injuries and accidents. The first step to treating sleep deprivation is finding out what’s causing you lose out on sleep. You’ll need to see your doctor, who may refer you to a sleep specialist, to determine the exact reason for your sleeplessness and the best treatment for your case.


A very common sleep issue that almost everyone experiences at one time or another is called insomnia. Insomnia is the most common sleep disorder among U.S. adults. Estimates indicate that 30 percent or more of adults in the U.S. experience insomnia at some point in a year. For 10 percent of those people, insomnia is chronic. Chronic insomnia (not sleeping well on a daily basis) can lead to poor quality of life, health issues, depression, and accidents.
Insomnia symptoms include difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, and/or waking up too early.

Women experience insomnia at higher rates than men. Women’s risk for insomnia is influenced in part by the hormonal cycles of menstruation. Pregnancy can elevate a woman’s risk for insomnia, as can menopause. The risk of insomnia for both men and women increases with age.

Maintaining a strong sleep routine can help guard against insomnia, as well as help diminish the severity if it does arise. A healthy sleep routine includes regular bedtimes and wake times—a schedule that you adhere to even on weekends. Managing other waking habits can also help strengthen sleep and may reduce your risk of experiencing insomnia. Keeping caffeine consumption in check, and limiting caffeine to the early part of the day will help avoid night-time alertness that can interfere with sleep onset. Avoiding alcohol within four hours of bedtime can prevent the disruption to sleep—especially to the second half of the night—that’s associated with drinking later in the evening. Finding ways to cope effectively with stress is another important way to improve sleep and reduce your risk for insomnia. Exercise also can help. A routine of regular exercise is a great way to manage stress and to improve sleep at the same time. Research indicates exercise can help ease symptoms of insomnia. Just be sure not to exercise too close to bedtime, or you may interfere with sleep. Leave at least three hours between exercise and your regular bedtime.

These strategies together amount to what sleep experts call good “sleep hygiene”—a collection of healthy sleep habits that help ensure plentiful, restorative, refreshing sleep, and a feeling of well-being during waking life. Strong sleep hygiene will help you protect against insomnia and allow you to sleep more restfully and well.


Snoring can drive your partner crazy but it can also have a negative effect on your quality of sleep. 37 million people snore each night and 90 million people have snored at some point during their life.

Snoring, defined by its raspy, hissing sound, is caused by a partially closed upper airway (the nose and throat). When you sleep the muscles of your throat relax, and your throat narrows and becomes blocked. As you breathe, the walls of the throat will vibrate. These vibrations lead to the sounds of snoring. The narrower your airway becomes, the greater the vibration and the louder your snoring. Snoring usually gets worse as you get older and is generally more common in men than women.

Snoring is sometimes linked to sleep apnea. If your snoring is disrupting your sleep or your partner’s sleep, your doctor will want to monitor you and potentially refer you to a sleep specialist to decide the best path for treatment.

Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea could also be to blame for your poor sleep quality. Approximately 25 million Americans have been diagnosed with this disorder and many millions more may have it. Sleep apnea is a serious medical condition where either the airway is blocked and breathing is strained, or the body stops breathing when you are sleeping. It’s a potentially fatal condition, with harmful short- and long-term complications, that affects more than 1 in 3 men and 1 in 6 women.

There are two basic types of sleep apnea, obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) where there is something about the person’s anatomy—possibly a large tonsil or steep palate—that is blocking the airway; and central sleep apnea which occurs when the brain tells the lungs not to breathe. When you have sleep apnea, each night, your brain senses when you’ve stopped breathing and causes you to wake up just enough to gasp and start breathing again. Then you fall back to sleep and the cycle begins again. This can happen more than 120 times every hour, even though you may not remember waking up. As you can imagine, apneas put immense short- and long-term strains on the body.

You might not even know you have it unless your spouse reports loud snoring. While snoring is the strongest predictor of sleep apnea, not everyone who snores has it. And more important, not everyone who has it snores. Other symptoms of sleep apnea include constant tiredness, poor concentrations, night sweats, weight gain, lack of energy and forgetfulness.

Untreated sleep apnea has been linked to an increased risk for chronic and life-threatening conditions such as hypertension (high blood pressure) and cardiovascular problems, poorer glucose control in patients with type 2 diabetes, and stroke.

The first step toward treating sleep apnea and living healthier is recognizing the signs and symptoms of sleep apnea and asking your doctor to get screened and tested.

Jet Lag

Do you have to travel for work and spend a lot of time on an airplane bouncing coast to coast? Your sleep issues could be the result of something known as Jet Lag.

Every day, millions of travelers are affected by this common disorder. When you travel, especially long distances, your biological clock can get out of sync because you’ve disrupted your natural circadian rhythms which tell your body when to fall asleep and when to wake up. Although flying across the country seems to take no time at all, your circadian rhythms take some time to adjust and remain on the same biological schedule for several days. You may find yourself wanting to go out in the middle of the night or sleep all through the day. You can minimize the effects of jet lag yourself by making some simple adjustments before, during, and after arrival at your destination.

Restless Leg Syndrome

If you experience “pins and needles feelings”, an “internal itch”, or a “creeping, crawling sensation” that cause an irresistible urge to move your legs when you are trying to sleep, you may have a bothersome sleep issue known as Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) also known as Willis-Ekbom Disease. Restless Legs Syndrome, which affects approximately 10% of American adults, is a neurologic sensorimotor disorder that is characterized by an overwhelming urge to move the legs when they are at rest. During the night, you may awaken several times to move your legs around and get rid of the sometimes unpleasant sensations. This can cause restlessness that can lead to fatigue and sleep deprivation.

More than 80 percent of people suffering from RLS also suffer from a condition known as Periodic Leg Movements of Sleep (PLMS). Similar to RLS, PLMS causes the legs or feet involuntarily flex for a few seconds many times throughout the night. The primary difference between RLS and PLMS is that RLS occurs while you’re awake and PLMS occurs while sleeping. RLS is often unrecognized or misdiagnosed. This is especially true if the symptoms are intermittent or mild. Once correctly diagnosed, RLS can often be treated successfully. You should talk to your Doctor if you believe you may be affected by this disorder.


If you find yourself feeling uncontrollably tired throughout the day, you may have narcolepsy. Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder caused by the brain’s inability to regulate the normal sleep-to-awake cycle leading to excessive tiredness during the day with a tendency to fall asleep at inappropriate times. This life-long condition affects approximately 200,000 Americans.

Individuals suffering from narcolepsy experience various day and nighttime sleep problems. The most common symptom of narcolepsy is excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS), coupled with sudden, involuntary bouts of sleep that can strike at any time. Sometimes, these ‘sleep attacks’ only last a few seconds; other times, they can last a few minutes or longer. EDS can also cause a constant state of fatigue, which can affect concentration and attention during waking hours.

Cataplexy is a symptom that is unique to narcolepsy where you are conscious but unable to move your arms legs or face. The severity can range from a weakening of facial muscles to total body collapse.

You may even have cataplexy, a condition where you are conscious but can’t move your arms, legs or face. In extreme cases, this could cause you to fall down or get injured. You may also experience hallucinations or sleep paralysis, the inability to move or speak while conscious, either just before sleep or when waking up. Relatively short-lived, this symptom usually lasts a few minutes.

If you think you might have narcolepsy, your doctor will ask you about your sleeping habits and may request a clinical examination and a thorough understanding of your medical history. If your doctor thinks that you have narcolepsy, he or she may refer you to a sleep specialist for further consultation.


If you’re grinding or clenching your teeth at night, you may have sleep bruxism, a type of movement disorder that occurs while you’re sleeping. If you’re experiencing dental pain or damage, facial pain, headaches or earaches or disturbed sleep from it, you’re not alone. Eight percent of the adult population grinds their teeth at night and one-third of children do it too. Though sleep bruxism is still being studied, you may be experiencing it as a symptom of anxiety, smoking, sleep apnea or snoring.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Key Sleep Disorders.

Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, An Overview of Sleep Disorders

World Health Organization, Depression

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Insufficient Sleep is a Public Health Problem.

National Sleep Foundation, Sleep-Wake Cycle: Its Physiology and Impact on Health.

ResMed, What Causes Insomnia? A Look at Insomnia Symptoms and Causes.

ResMed, What is Sleep Apnea?

American Academy of Sleep Medicine, Rising Prevalence of Sleep Apnea in U.S. Threatens Public Health

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Sleep and Sleep Disorders.

ResMed, Sleep Apnea Facts and Figures.

American Sleep Association, Snoring.

ResMed, What Causes Snoring?

National Sleep Foundation, Jet Lag and Sleep.

National Institutes of Health, Restless Legs Syndrome.

ResMed, Fix My Sleep.

National Sleep Foundation, Teeth Grinding.

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