Sleep Disorders And Their Treatment

By: Nadia Khan

Updated February 05, 2021

Medically Reviewed By: Erika Schad, LCP, CWLC


Sleeping is an essential part of life. When you don't get enough sleep, you can quickly become fatigued and irritable. Worse yet, sleep disorders can cause serious medical, social, and personal difficulties that could last long after the sleep disruption is over, especially if you take too long to get treatment. If you're having problems related to sleep, it's important to seek help from a qualified professional. In the meantime, learning about the many types of sleep disorders can start you on a path toward understanding your sleep patterns so you can get treatment to resolve them.

Types Of Sleep Disorders

According to the Stanford Center for Sleep Sciences and Medicine, there are over 100 different sleep disorders. The individual conditions on the sleep disorders list each fall under one of the following categories:



Insomnia encompasses several distinct sleep disorders, each related to the inability to go to sleep and/or stay asleep. Some of these are also called sleep initiation and maintenance disorders (DIMS). People with DIMS not only have trouble sleeping, but their daytime functioning is also impaired. They may be unable to hold down a job, take care of family responsibilities, or even drive a car due to lack of alertness, inability to concentrate, and fatigue. Despite their fatigue, insomniacs are still unable to fall asleep because they are living with hyperarousal.

Circadian Rhythm And Shift Work Disorders

Your circadian rhythms are regulated in your brain and influenced by periods of light and darkness as well as participation in engaging activities. The circadian cycle doesn't go by the clock. It also isn't tied to the sun unless you're exposed to its light. When your brain tells you that you need to be awake, you tend to be in a state of arousal. The circadian clock is internal and is determined by genetics. You can weaken this clock, though, by napping frequently during the day, having a job that requires you to move frequently between time zones, or a shift work job, especially one with changing shifts.

Restless Leg Syndrome

In restless leg syndrome or periodic limb movement sleep disorders, the person's limbs twitch during the night and cause them to be in an aroused state. The best way to determine if you have this sleep disorder is to go to one of the sleep disorder clinics and be assessed by one of their seasoned doctors. They typically use polysomnography tests to determine if this is the cause of your inability to stay asleep.


When you have a parasomnia sleep disorder, you engage in abnormal activities while you're asleep. Some examples in this list of sleep disorders include nightmares and sleep terror disorders, sleep eating disorder, sleep walking, sleep talking, confused arousals, and REM behavior disorders (RBD). Night terrors are most prevalent among children. However, there are also other sleep disorders that are more common in children.

RBD sleep disorders are marked by unusual behaviors during sleep. Your muscles maintain their tone as if you were awake. This gives you the ability to act out your dreams as you sleep. You might have a twitching leg, or you might behave in ways that are unsafe or cause injury to yourself and others around you.

Sleep eating disorders happen during the REM cycles as well. Again, your muscles are as toned as when you're awake. You eat as if you were awake but may fall asleep as you eat. Paralyzed sleep disorder is another type of parasomnia. It features the inability to move during the non-REM parts of sleep and is often accompanied by hallucinations.

Sleep Breathing Disorders

One of the most common sleep disorders is sleep apnea. In obstructive sleep apnea the soft tissues of the airway collapse as you drift into sleep. Your airway is obstructed or shut off so that no air can go into or out of your lungs. You may snore, wake up gasping for air, or even have a stroke due to lack of oxygen. To answer the question, which of the following sleep disorders is most strongly associated with obesity, one only needs to look at the high prevalence of sleep apnea among the seriously overweight.


As the name suggests, hypersomnia means excessive sleepiness. It can come in the form of narcolepsy, excessive daytime sleepiness, or other sleep disorders. Sleeping too much can be just as harmful as sleeping too little.

Clinical Evaluation Of Sleep Disorders

Sleep disorder clinics such as the California Center for Sleep Disorders are designed to assess sleep patterns and find out why sleep is inadequate. Since sleep variations are only disorders if they cause anxiety or interfere with daytime functioning, the first thing you need to do is determine if your unusual sleep routine is actually problematic. A counselor can help you explore this subject before you check into a sleep clinic.

Once you enter the clinic, sleep disorder doctors run tests to determine what your sleep cycle is like, what disrupts it or extends it, and how it differs from that of “good sleepers.” The doctors then can make recommendations for the treatments that are most likely right for you and pass on the treatment to other sleep specialists, counselors, and doctors.

Sleep Disorder Treatments

The type of sleep disorder treatment you may need depend on the specific sleep disorder you have. Everyone has their own best sleep, which happens when their unique genetic makeup, sleep drive, and the right opportunities to sleep are aligned together.

Medical Equipment And Surgery

Sleep apnea can be treated with a CPAP, a continuous positive air pressure machine. You breathe through the CPAP mask while the device forces air into your airways to keep them open. Others opt for a sleep apnea surgery that can reduce the amount of tissue available to block the airways. Along with these medical interventions, you can also improve you sleep apnea by learning how to control your diet and exercise.


Virtually everyone is familiar with sleeping pills that are often used to help people get to sleep and/ or stay asleep. Although these medications work for many people, others find that they actually diminish the quality of their sleep and interfere with normal sleep cycles.


Other medications are available for sleep disorders as well. For example, stimulants, antidepressants, and other medications have been used successfully to treat narcolepsy. A specific medication is on the market to help with restless leg syndrome.

If the sleep disorder has a genetic cause, medication may need to be continued for the long term. However, sleep disorders that have developed due to situational factors may only need to be treated with medications for a brief time during which the person develops better thought patterns, more appropriate sleep behaviors, and a more sleep-friendly lifestyle. Please consult with your doctor or primary care physician before considering any medication options.

Lifestyle Changes


One of the first things you may need to do to improve your sleep is develop a healthier lifestyle. Avoid stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine, which can both keep you from falling asleep at the right time and may also disrupt your sleep during the night. If you must take medications for a physical or mental illness or condition, it could help to take them at the time of day when they'll be the least disruptive to your desired sleep pattern. Get plenty of exercise during the day, so you're sleepy at night, but most sleep disorder doctors suggest you shouldn't work out right before bedtime as it can cause arousal. Getting out in the sunshine during times you want to stay awake can be an effective way to decrease your desire to nap during the day.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one of the most effective sleep disorder treatments. Individuals who want to improve their sleep can talk to a counselor to identify issues that keep them from getting good quality sleep and find solutions to their sleep disorders. They learn and practice techniques for changing their sleep cycles to develop sleep patterns that allow them to live the life they want to live.

Since anxiety and depression can negatively impact sleep, coping with these conditions more adequately can dramatically improve your sleep. You can learn techniques to avoid worry as you try to fall asleep at night, allowing sleep to come peacefully. When your depression lessens, the desire to stay in bed will lessen, too. Exploring your personal and social disorders profoundly affects your sleep. As you resolve traumas from your past and learn to address current stressors, sleep will usually come more naturally.

The primary use CBT for sleep disorders, though, is to confront the direct causes of the disorder. Techniques like altering the light level in the morning and evening can help reset your sleep cycle. Behavioral changes can help you make your bed a space that's associated with sleep and not with anxiety around sleeplessness.

First Steps

If you're ready to get better sleep and feel more alert while you're awake, it's best to seek treatment as soon as possible. In 2020, more and more people are turning to online counseling as a viable alternative to traditional in-person therapy. Recent studies show that electronically delivered cognitive behavioral therapy reduced depression and anxiety symptom severity more effectively than face-to-face therapy. The analysis considered 17 randomized controlled study trials, “evaluating the clinical effectiveness of eCBT compared to face-to-face and considered a wide range of outcomes including severity of symptoms, adverse outcomes, clinically relevant outcomes, global functionality, participant satisfaction, quality of life, and affordability.”

BetterHelp is a convenient way to speak with a licensed/certified counselor without having to leave the comforts of home. Online therapy through BetterHelp is an affordable way to determine whether your sleep peculiarities are problematic and develop a treatment plan to help you sleep better. Read these reviews of BetterHelp counselors helping people like you.

“When I first started therapy with Suzanne, I was dealing with intense anxiety that dominated all my waking hours, as well as insomnia that kept me up to avg ~3am most nights for over half a year. I was honestly skeptical of therapy since I have worked with six different therapists in the past (not through BetterHelp) and didn't feel it really worked for me. But Suzanne really changed my idea of therapy for the better. Since working with her, my mental health has improved immensely, and I've experienced a ton of healing in our time together. Her empathic and compassionate listening, relevant advice and knowledge, and warm presence really put me at ease and helped me move through probably the biggest transition of my life, as well as a lot of past trauma. I feel eons lighter and much more at peace with myself, my life, and my relationships, and I can attribute a lot of that to working with Suzanne - the level of insight and practical homework that came out of every session really helped me feel like I was making progress in my healing. Suzanne, thank you so much for all the hard work that you do. It is an amazing skill to care and counsel. Thank you for changing my life!”

“Shameika provides me with a realistic, compassionate, but blunt approach to things, and I quite frankly need it! She listens, she understands, and I’ve enjoyed working with her so far.”

Previous Article

Do I Have Insomnia: How Long Does It Take To Fall Asleep?

Next Article

Why Am I Sleepy All The Time: Does It Mean I’m Lazy?
For Additional Help & Support With Your Concerns
Speak with a Licensed Therapist Today
The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.