Sleep-wake disorders

Sleep is a fundamental aspect of human life, essential for overall well-being and health. However, many individuals face sleep-related challenges that can disrupt their daily lives. Sleep disorders can adversely impact our health, work performance, and relationships.

Manuela Băbuș
Medical Writer
Sleep-wake disorders

Sleep-wake disorders include issues with the quality, timing, and duration of sleep, leading to daytime distress and impaired functioning. These disorders often coexist with medical conditions or mental health issues like depression, anxiety, or cognitive disorders. 

How Much Sleep Do We Need?

Adults in good health require a minimum of seven hours of sleep every night. On the other hand, infants, young kids, and adolescents necessitate even more sleep to support their physical and cognitive maturation.

Causes of Sleep Disorders

Various factors contribute to the development of sleep disorders:

Lifestyle Factors: Irregular sleep schedules, excessive caffeine or alcohol consumption, and lack of physical activity can disrupt sleep patterns. 

Psychological Factors: Stress, anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues can interfere with the ability to fall asleep or stay asleep. Stress is a common trigger for sleep disorders, causing anxiety, depression, and insomnia.

Medical Conditions: Certain medical conditions, such as chronic pain, respiratory disorders, and neurological disorders, may lead to sleep disturbances. Some medications can alter sleep patterns as a side effect, affecting the overall sleep quality.

Treatment and Self-help

Addressing sleep disorders requires a multifaceted approach. Some remedies can significantly improve sleep quality.

 Sleep Hygiene: Establish a consistent sleep schedule, create a comfortable sleep environment, and limit exposure to screens before bedtime.


Stress Management: Practicing relaxation techniques, such as meditation and deep breathing exercises, can reduce stress and promote better sleep.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I) is an evidence-based therapy that helps individuals identify and change negative thought patterns and behaviors related to sleep.

Regular Exercise: Engaging in moderate physical activity can enhance sleep quality and overall well-being.

Balanced Diet: Avoid heavy meals before bedtime and consider consuming sleep-supportive foods like warm milk or chamomile tea.

Limit Stimulants: Reduce caffeine and alcohol intake, especially close to bedtime.

Bedroom Environment: Keep the bedroom dark, quiet, and cool to create an optimal sleeping environment.

Medical Interventions: In some cases, medical treatment, such as continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) for sleep apnea or medication for specific sleep disorders, may be necessary.

Types of sleep disorders

There are many types of sleep disorders, but the most common ones include insomnia, sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, narcolepsy, and parasomnias. 

  • Insomnia refers to difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. 
  • Sleep apnea is a disorder in which breathing stops and starts repeatedly during the night. 
  • Restless leg syndrome is a sensation of discomfort and an urge to move the legs. 
  • Narcolepsy is characterized by excessive daytime sleepiness. 
  • Parasomnias refer to abnormal behaviors during sleep, such as sleepwalking or night terrors.

Sleep difficulties are not only linked to physical health but also emotional well-being. They can both contribute to and worsen existing mental health conditions.

About one-third of adults report experiencing insomnia symptoms, and approximately 6-10 percent of individuals meet the criteria for insomnia disorder.


Insomnia is a common sleep disorder that can disrupt the ability to fall asleep or stay asleep. It's more prevalent than we might think – about one-third of adults experience some insomnia symptoms. For 10-15 percent of adults, these symptoms even affect their daytime functioning, and 6-10 percent meet the criteria for insomnia disorder. Interestingly, almost half of those with insomnia also have another mental disorder.

Diagnosing insomnia disorder involves several factors. 

The sleep issues must occur at least three nights a week for a minimum of three months. To diagnose insomnia, doctors rule out other sleep disorders, medication side effects, substance misuse, depression, and physical and mental illnesses

Insomnia can affect people at any age, but it often starts in young adulthood. The type of insomnia can vary with age, with issues falling asleep being more common among young adults and difficulties staying asleep being more prevalent among middle-aged and older adults.

Treatment for chronic insomnia often involves a blend of sleep medications and behavioral techniques, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy. 

While various medications can aid in falling asleep or staying asleep, they should be used for brief periods and under medical supervision due to their potential for habituation. 

Some antidepressants are also used for insomnia treatment.

Over-the-counter sleep aids usually contain antihistamines, which may lose effectiveness over time and carry certain risks, especially for older adults.

Relaxation techniques before bedtime, and mind-body approaches like meditation and yoga might help. 

Ultimately, understanding insomnia and adopting strategies to enhance your sleep hygiene can pave the way to more restful nights and improved well-being. If you're considering alternative remedies, always consult your healthcare provider first.

Sleep Apneea

People with sleep apnea often have episodes where their airway becomes blocked, leading to snoring, gasping, or even temporary pauses in breathing

As a result, the sleep becomes disrupted, causing them to feel excessively tired and worn out during the day.

To diagnose sleep apnea, doctors use a special test known as polysomnography, they keep track of the number of times the breathing is obstructed or reduced while patient is asleep.

Sleep apnea isn't rare – it affects about 2 to 15 percent of middle-aged adults and over 20 percent of older adults suffering of sleep apneea. 

Certain factors increase the risk of developing sleep apnea, including being overweight, being male, and having a family history of this condition.

The good news is that there are ways to manage sleep apnea and improve the quality of sleep. 

Lifestyle changes, such as losing weight if needed or sleeping on the side, can improve sleep apnea. Another option is to use a custom-fit plastic mouthpiece (created by dentists or ortodontists) that can help keep the airways open while sleep. 

For more serious cases of sleep apnea, a doctor might recommend a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) device. This stands for continuous positive airway pressure. It's a device that gently blows air through a tube and a mask that covers the mouth and nose, ensuring your airway stays open throughout the night.

Sleep apnea might sound worrisome, but there are effective ways to manage it and get back to restful nights of sleep. 


Sleep disorders can significantly impact the quality of life, affecting physical and mental health, productivity, and overall well-being. Understanding the causes, predisposing factors, and potential remedies and solutions is essential for managing sleep-related challenges effectively. 

Prioritize Your Sleep Hygiene!

  • Maintain a consistent sleep schedule, even on weekends.
  • Avoid electronic devices before bed.
  • Limit afternoon naps.
  • Engage in daily exercise.
  • Craft a sleep-conducive bedroom environment.
  • Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and heavy meals in the evening.

If sleep issues persist, consulting a doctor is crucial for proper diagnosis and personalized treatment! A good night's sleep is critical to a healthy life!

Article Citations & Bibliography
  1. American Psychiatric Association What are Sleep Disorders?,both%20physical%20and%20emotional%20problems. Accessed on 6th of August
  2.  Christopher C. Muth, Sleep-wake disorders, JAMA. 2016;316(21):2322. doi:10.1001/jama.2016.17785
  3., accessed on 6th of August

Please note that the information provided on this blog is for educational and informational purposes only. It is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this blog.

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Manuela Băbuș.
Medical Writer