How To Fix The Four Biggest Sleep Disorders

We break down the problems and solutions to get you sleeping right.

Sleep is one of the most important parts of our lives. So when you’re not getting the right amount of sleep, problems arise when you’re awake. These are four common sleep disorders and what you can do about them.


Definition: Trouble falling or staying asleep at least three nights a week for three months or longer.

Signs: Daytime fatigue, moodiness, problems with attention and memory, anxiety about sleep.

Causes: Stress, depression, alcohol and/or caffeine use, substance abuse, irregular sleep schedule.

Try First: Cognitive behavioural therapy for insomnia, also known as CBT-I. Benefits are often seen in four to six sessions with a therapist.

Try Next:  A prescription med may help, but seek the guidance of a doctor.

Related: Can’t Sleep? Your Insomnia May Be More Serious Than You Think

Sleep Apnoea

Definition: Breathing pauses of ten or more seconds in bed. About one in four adults ages 30 to 70 have it.

Signs: Loud, frequent snoring; choking or gasping sounds; a.m. headaches; unrefreshing sleep.

Causes: Overweight, older age, narrow neck/throat, alcohol use, smoking, narcotic pain meds.

Try First: Control weight, smoking, and/or drinking; sleep on your side; raise your upper body with a wedge pillow when sleeping on your back.

Try Next: A continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device, used while sleeping to deliver gentle air pressure via a mask to keep your airway open.

Related: A Sleep Doctor Reveals the 4 Fastest Ways to Stop Snoring

Restless Legs Syndrome

Definition: Neurological disorder causing an uncomfortable leg sensation when sitting or lying down.

Signs: Itching, crawling, burning, or throbbing that worsens at night, creating the urge to move your legs.

Causes: Low iron, diabetes, meds (antidepressants, antihistamines); sometimes the cause is unknown.

Try First: Iron supplements if needed, stretching, massage, moderate exercise, reducing caffeine or alcohol, quitting smoking.

Try Next: An anticonvulsant or dopaminergic agent. Note: these medicines treat symptoms but not the problem.

Related: How Skipping This Much Sleep Makes Arguing With Your Partner More Dangerous


Definition: Your brain loses control of its sleep-wake cycles. Sudden “sleep attacks” can occur.

Signs: Extreme daytime sleepiness; hallucinations when falling asleep; sleep paralysis.

Causes: Deficiency in hypocretin (neurotransmitter involved in sleep-wake cycle); sometimes unknown.

Try First: Scheduled naps; exercise; no caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, heavy meals; consult a behavioural sleep medicine specialist.

Try Next: Antidepressants, stimulants, sodium oxybate. Note: these medicines treat symptoms but not the problem.

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