Understanding Types of Sleep Problems

Whether you can’t fall asleep, or sleep too much, the Aurora Sleep Medicine Centers address the comprehensive sleep concerns of patients including:

Sleep apnea | Insomnia | Restless Leg Syndrome | Narcolepsy | Sleep Paralysis | REM Sleep Behavior Disorder | Circadian Rhythms | Managing Jet Lag | Bruxism (Teeth Grinding) | Hypersomnia | Parasomnia | Night Terrors | Night Sweats | Sleep Walking | Driver's Safety Issues | Snoring | Request a Consultation Appointment

Sleep apnea

Sleep apnea is a potentially life-threatening disorder characterized by interruptions of breathing during sleep.

Sleep apnea is divided into different types. Central sleep apnea is least common and occurs when the brain fails to send the appropriate signals to the breathing muscles that initiate respiration. Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when air cannot flow into or out of a person's nose or mouth, although efforts to breathe continue.

Some nights, an individual who suffers from sleep apnea may experience as many as 100 to 200 involuntary breathing pauses, also known as "apneic events." The frequent disruption of deep sleep often leads to early morning headaches and excessive daytime sleepiness.

Sleep apnea occurs among all age groups and between both genders, but is most common in men, especially those who are overweight. An estimated 18 million Americans live with sleep apnea.

It is important to detect and treat sleep apnea early. It may be associated with irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke.


Insomnia is one of the most common of all sleep disorders and is characterized by frequent difficulty falling asleep or falling asleep only to awaken after a short period of time. Insomnia leads to sleep deprivation, which can impact every aspect of life, and is associated with:

  • increased work errors
  • impaired concentration and memory
  • diminished reaction time
  • low energy
  • poor work performance

Insomnia also can cause stress in personal relationships, primarily due to the increased impatience, irritability and even the depression and anxiety that sometimes results from chronic insomnia. It also can lead to medical problems like obesity due to a disruption of hormone production that regulates feelings of hunger.

Caused by a number of factors, insomnia can be psychological, lifestyle related, environmental or due to physical illness.

Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS)

Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS), also known as nocturnal myoclonus, is characterized by unpleasant sensations in the limbs, most typically the legs, and an irresistible urge to move them. The sensations tend to be worse during periods of inactivity and usually strongest at night. The symptoms often improve with activity, which leads to insomnia in many RLS patients. Most common in individuals over the age of 60, the symptoms may increase in the evening and during times of rest, relaxation or inactivity.

Restless Leg Syndrome can lead to sleep deprivation which can impact every aspect of life, and is associated with:

  • increased work errors
  • impaired concentration and memory
  • diminished reaction time
  • low energy
  • poor work performance

Research indicates that RLS may be connected with an iron deficiency. A number of conditions may affect the iron level in the blood stream, including kidney failure, Parkinson disease, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and pregnancy. RLS may also have hereditary link, making it more likely to appear when a family member also has RLS or an iron deficiency.


Narcolepsy is characterized by frequent, involuntary episodes of sleeping during the day. Sleep attacks may occur while driving, talking or walking. People with narcolepsy experience excessive daytime sleepiness and intermittent, uncontrollable episodes of falling asleep during the day.

For people with narcolepsy, their normal sleep cycle is interrupted. Instead of the early stages of sleep, they tend to go immediately into deeper sleep stages. Periodically, this can even happen during the waking hours.

Narcolepsy is associated with symptoms including:

  • Excessive daytime sleepiness
  • Cataplexy, or a loss of muscle tone, that leads to feelings of weakness and a loss of voluntary muscle control
  • Hallucinations that are vivid and frequently frightening. They can come on as the person is falling asleep or upon wakening.
  • Sleep paralysis which involves the temporary inability to move or speak while falling asleep or wakening.

While the exact cause of narcolepsy is not know, it appears that the production of chemical in the brain may signal sleep and awake cycles. In addition, abnormalities apparently contribute to difficulty in regulating REM sleep.

Sleep Paralysis

Sleep Paralysis is a condition in which a person feels unable to move their arms, legs or torso during the onset of sleep or right after awakening. It is commonly associated with vivid dreams and sometimes even hallucinations. Some people experience the feeling of pressure on their chest.

This short-term muscle paralysis does not seem to harm the person or have an impact on their overall health. However, this can be stressful for the person, as they don't know how long it will last or when an episode will occur.

Young children are more likely to experience sleep paralysis, but it can happen to adults. Individuals with narcolepsy also are more likely to experience sleep paralysis.

REM Sleep Behavior Disorder

REM Sleep Behavior Disorder is a condition where a person physically acts out their dreams. The person typically is not aware of their actions unless they are wakened during the episode. Most episodes of REM sleep behavior disorder involve nightmare-type dreams of being chased or attacked causing the person to physically defend themselves by violently punching, kicking and screaming.

The frequency with which someone experiences REM sleep behavior can vary from once a week to several times a night. While frightening to witness, this not a psychiatric disorder and does not predispose the person to being outwardly aggressive during waking hours.

REM sleep behavior disorder can be present in addition to another sleep disorder like sleep apnea.

Circadian Rhythms

Circadian Rhythms refer to your internal clock that tells you when to be awake and when to sleep. People who work non-traditional hours or whose schedule frequently changes from days to evenings can experience difficulties sleeping during their down time. Drug or substance use can also complicate the problem. Individuals who travel internationally often experience it in the form of jet lag, but can usually adjust back to normal in a few days. For some people, there is no obvious cause for the sleep pattern. Types of circadian rhythm disorders include:

  • delayed sleep phase disorder, when you fall asleep too late at night and as a result sleep late into the day
  • advanced sleep phase disorder, when you fall asleep too early, causing you to awaken before dawn
  • irregular sleep-wake rhythm, when you sleep, or "nap" in short periods of time throughout the day
  • free-running, when your sleep progressively gets later every day

Managing Jet Lag

Managing Jet Lag can be a problem for people who travel across several time zones. People may have difficulties adjusting to the local time zone. Individuals who are particularly sensitive to jet lag may experience symptoms of being extremely lethargic one moment and overly excited the next. Sleep medicine specialists can help travelers manage the condition to minimize its impact on the time spent traveling.

Sleep Bruxism

Sleep Bruxism, or grinding or clenching of teeth in your sleep can have numerous side-effects including jaw disorders, headaches and damage to teeth. While mild cases may not require treatment, if symptoms like tooth sensitivity, tightness of the jaw muscles, earaches and headaches are interfering with your quality of life, you should seek the assistance of a sleep medicine specialist.


Hypersomnia is characterized by disabling daytime sleepiness. Hypersomnia can cause decreased work or school performance, stress in personal relationships and dangerous driving hazard.


Parasomnia is a condition in which the sleep process is disrupted by sleep-related events. Typically infrequent and mild, these behaviors aren't typically concerning, however if they happen often enough, sleep medicine care may need to be sought. Parasomnia disorders typically happen when a person is in a mixed state of sleep and awake. It is commonly recognized as sleepwalking or night terrors.

Night Terrors

Night Terrors are characterized by extreme terror and a temporary inability to regain full consciousness. A parasomnia disorder, night terrors are often paired with sleepwalking. More common in children, most people eventually outgrow them.

Night Sweats

Night Sweats is a condition when you wake to find your clothing and bedding is soaked in sweat. This happens even when the room is at a moderate temperature. The condition can be associated with hormonal changes in life like during menopause or caused by medical treatment for conditions like cancer. While extremely uncomfortable, they aren't typically a sign of concern.

Sleep Walking

Sleep Walking happens when a person gets up from bed and walks around while they are still asleep. People who sleepwalk may talk or shout as they walk, and most commonly walk with their eyes open. In extreme cases, a person might exhibit inappropriate behavior, like relieving themselves outside the restroom, acting hostile or violent. A sleep walker may even eat or drive a car.

Driver's Safety Issues

Driver's Safety Issues are a particular concern for individuals who drive long periods of time for work, like truck drivers. When a person does not get a restful night's sleep on a routine basis, it can affect their ability to concentrate for long periods of time while driving. Conditions like sleep apnea can limit your ability to sleep soundly even if you are getting the recommended 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night. Testing for hypersomnia can identify a condition which makes a person prone to sleepiness during waking hours.


Snoring is often a symptom of a more serious sleep condition call sleep apnea. With sleep apnea, the person actually stops breathing for brief periods of time during sleep. When snoring happens regularly outside of a headcold, it is important to have the condition assessed by a sleep medicine expert, since sleep apnea can lead to serious medical complications including heart problems.

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