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Sleep Disorders in Adults

Updated on April 19, 2012
The Somnambulist (The sleepwalker), painting by John Everett Millais.
The Somnambulist (The sleepwalker), painting by John Everett Millais. | Source

Going to bed after a hard day of work is a satisfying end to a long day for many tired adults. Sometimes, however, what should be a peaceful night of rest can instead turn into long hours of restlessness, sleeplessness and even danger. Many adults today suffer from common sleep disorders and seek to diagnose their symptoms in the hopes that they will be able to sleep undisturbed.

As someone who sleepwalks or sleeptalks nearly every night, I understand the irritation and frustrations that sleep disorders can cause. Take a look below at some of the most common sleep disorders in adults and see if you or someone you know may be suffering from a sleep disorder.

Insomnia by the Numbers

  • 58% of American adults have experienced Insomnia at least one night a week.
  • Chronic Insomnia affects about 6% of the adult American population.
  • 48% of American adults report experiencing insomnia regularly at one point in their lives.


Insomnia is generally characterized by the inability to sleep, whether that means going to sleep initially or staying asleep. If you can answer yes to to either of these following questions, you may suffer from insomnia.

  • Do you have trouble falling asleep more than one night a week?
  • Do you have trouble staying asleep more than one night a week?

Insomnia that lasts longer than a month often impairs a person's waking hours and should be diagnosed by a doctor. Insomnia often causes delayed reaction times, exhaustion, depression, anxiety, sleep deprivation and other problems that can severely impact your life. There are three main types of Insomnia:

Transient Insomnia: This type of insomnia usually lasts for about a week at a time and is usually caused by environmental changes.

Acute Insomnia: Acute insomnia is difficulty sleeping for periods lasting a month or less. This type of insomnia is generally related to stress.

Chronic Insomnia: This type of insomnia lasts indefinitely and can severely impair a person's activities. Chronic Insomnia may be the primary disorder, or it can be caused by mental illnesses, like depression.

Sleepwalking and Sleeptalking

Most adults grow out of sleepwalking and sleeptalking, but about 6% of adults continue to suffer from sleepwalking and sleeptalking. Talking in your sleep may not be such a big deal to you, but in can effect those around you and keep them awake.

Sleepwalking, however, can be directly hazardous to those around you, and to yourself. As a sleepwalker, I have left tents while camping, left apartments and even come close to grabbing my roommate in the middle of the night (in my sleepwalking haze, I thought she was a tray of spaghetti--don't ask!).

If sleepwalking is not genetic in your family- a large portion of sleepwalkers find that sleepwalking runs in their families- then sleepwalking can be a sign of some more serious problems, including Parkinsons disease, post traumatic stress disorder or even multiple personality disorder. If sleepwalking keeps you awake regularly, you should see a sleep pathologist.

Signs of Sleep Apnea

  • Snoring
  • Exhaustion during the day
  • Lengthy pauses in breathing
  • Jerking awake multiple times during the night
  • Coughing, snorting, gasping and wheezing during the night

Sleep Apnea

Sleep Apnea is a disorder wherein the sleeper will stop breathing at length, or have difficulty breathing during the night. Sleep Apnea can be a serious hazard to health and the sufferer can awake dozens of times during the night as they struggle to breathe.

Causes and Risk Factors of Sleep Apnea: Sleep apnea is most common in adult males, and increases in occurrence when patients reach 65. Certain life style factors like smoking and obesity can also cause sleep apnea. Blacks, Hispanics and Pacific Islanders are also more at risk.


Narcolepsy is the inability to control daytime wakefulness and causes patients to suddenly fall asleep or experience extreme drowsiness. Narcolepsy is one of the more uncommon disorders in adults, but still effects about 1 in every 2,000 Americans. One of the more mysterious disorders, Narcolepsy is the third most frequently diagnosed disorder, and has no known causes (besides possible genetic influence) or cures.

Narcolepsy is best treated through control of symptoms and can be devastating to the way a person lives. Symptoms usually show up between 30-45 years of age, but has also effected those as young as 3.

Restless Leg Syndrome

Restless Leg Syndrome is the powerful urge to jerk, twitch or otherwise move your limbs in response to unusual sensations. Considered a neurological disorder instead of a sleep disorder, Restless Leg Syndrome tends to strike when patients are relaxing or trying to go to sleep. It can cause severe disruption and can be annoying to those you may share a bed with.

60% of Restless Leg sufferers inherited the condition while an estimated 34% of sufferers had a deficiency in iron or other necessary nutrients that help control voluntary muscle movement. Restless Leg syndrome can be aided with the use of prescription drugs.

Do You Have a Sleep Disorder?

Which Sleep Disorder do you Have?

See results


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    • cam8510 profile image

      Chris Mills 4 years ago from Missoula, Montana at least until March 2018

      This is a very helpful article for describing various sleep disorders. I would like to suggest an addition to sleep apnea. The most common type is obstructive sleep apnea. A less common type, which I have suffered from, is central sleep apnea. This occurs when the brain stops sending signals telling the body to breath. The sufferer simply stops breathing.

      I also appreciate your description of Restless Legs Syndrome, newly named Willis-Eckbom Disease. You have included the strange sensations we experience as well as the movement of limbs. You also refer to it as a neurological disorder. Thank you for representing it so well. It is very misunderstood.

    • profile image

      Annamie Cureteyz 5 years ago

      You surely is a very resourceful writer, this post is well written and have cited good points about sleep deprivation. Kee it up, I will surely visit more often here.

    • mattforte profile image

      Steven Pearson 5 years ago from Spanaway, WA

      I just noticed you published a hub about sleeping this month, ironic since I just published one myself (albeit a very different area of the subject). Great minds think alike! ^.^

    • Shanna11 profile image

      Shanna 5 years ago from Utah

      homesteadbound- Hmm, that sounds similar to things that have happened to me as well. A doctor once explained it to me this way: My body was completed relaxed, but my brain was still awake and was checking to make sure my body was not going to move after the brain went to sleep (to prevent you from acting out your dreams, etc-- normal people have a type of sleep paralysis that prevents them from sleepwalking, moving about, etc). However, since your brain is still awake, the body jerks because the connection between the brain and body movements hasn't been severed yet.

      I don't know if that made any sense, but I remember being told that by a doctor. However, jerks as you're falling asleep could also be a called "Myoclonic jerks". I know very little about that, and wish I could provide more information, but you should read up on them. If they bother you too much, I would suggest seeing a doctor.

      Thanks for the poll suggestion, I will add it! Best wishes for a peaceful night's rest!

    • homesteadbound profile image

      Cindy Murdoch 5 years ago from Texas

      I think I have more than one of these that I am dealing with. I have taken meds for these conditions but like the side effects even less. So I just deal with the sleep problems which have gotten more severe as I move into menopause. Recently I have developed a new problem in trying to go to sleep. It is as if my whole body is being jerked just as I fall asleep. It is making it very difficult to fall asleep. It is different that the falling and hitting bottom causing me to wake up that I had previously been having. Do you have any ideas?

      I could not vote in your poll, I would suggest that you might add: suffering from more than one problem.

    • Millionaire Tips profile image

      Shasta Matova 5 years ago from USA

      We were just talking about sleep disorders the other day, so this hub is very timely. It is good to know the different types and their effects. I'd be interested in knowing how to help someone with any of these problems.

    • cardelean profile image

      cardelean 5 years ago from Michigan

      Very informative hub Shanna! You did a great job researching and including so many different disorders.

    • Doc Sonic profile image

      Glen Nunes 5 years ago from Cape Cod, Massachusetts

      Great hub, Shanna. Here's one for you: REM Behavior Disorder, where you physically act out dramatic or violent dreams. Similar to sleepwalking in some ways, but not the same. I had to move my bedside table to avoid banging my head on it while diving or jumping out of bed. It can be managed, though. And I've never mistaken anyone for a tray of spaghetti - that's a good one!

    • Rolly A Chabot profile image

      Rolly A Chabot 5 years ago from Alberta Canada

      Interesting hub and one I can see you have done a great deal of research on. Well done and will be reading on.

      Hugs from Canada

    • Teresa Coppens profile image

      Teresa Coppens 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I usually sleep quite well. But I did have a period in University when I went one week without sleep. Not a pleasant experience at all. Great hub!

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 5 years ago from San Francisco

      This Hub rocks, Shanna! What a great overview. I didn't know that insomnia is broken into those different types, or that sleepwalking is sometimes associated with PTSD.

      When I was younger, I had sleepwalking problems, too, and I also had a camping incident (boy, was it ever weird to wake up in the middle of a field, covered in dew).

      Thanks for getting me up to date on the basics of major sleep disorders!

    • gmwilliams profile image

      Grace Marguerite Williams 5 years ago from the Greatest City In The World-New York City, New York

      To Shanna11: This is a very informative and educational hub. You have done some excellent research. You have immense talent as a writer and I hope you choose this as a career.

    • DonnaCosmato profile image

      Donna Cosmato 5 years ago from USA

      What a great research piece on sleep disorders! I have insomnia (at least according to the report from the Sleep Disorders Clinic where I participated in a clinical trial!), and I suspect my husband has narcolepsy - he's always falling asleep:) Great job of presenting all the pertinent information in such a reader-friendly, easy to scan format.

    • wordscribe43 profile image

      Elsie Nelson 5 years ago from Pacific Northwest, USA

      Great, comprehensive hub. As a person with Restless Leg Syndrome, I can attest to the horror of it! They're learning more and more about RLS and how it's linked to a dopamine problem in the brain. I hope there's a cure or treatment soon... it just gets worse the older I get. By the way, I talk in my sleep, too. I get to "hear" all about it the next day from my family members. Sigh.

    • CASE1WORKER profile image

      CASE1WORKER 5 years ago from UNITED KINGDOM

      Interesting hub- apparently my great uncle died on narcolepsy- fell asleep crossing the road and a bus hit him! luckily I just fall dead asleep at night