The Trouble With Sleeping: Sleep Disorders and Disturbances

Sleep troubles can range in severity from tossing and turning to life-threatening disturbances. That’s the trouble with sleeping. When it goes as it should, and you are able to fall asleep peacefully on your sobakawa pillow, it’s great. However, if you have a sleep disorder or experience sleep disturbances, the thought of going to bed can cause stress and anxiety.


The science of sleep is quite fascinating as there is so much going on to help us stay asleep and repair our bodies each night. In many ways, our understanding of sleep’s complexity can be enhanced by studying sleep disorders and disturbances.


Between 50 and 70 million Americans have a sleep disorder, and there are approximately 80 different types of sleep conditions people may be diagnosed with. In this article, I will provide an overview of various sleep disorders and disturbances that can trouble millions of Americans each year.




This is a type of sleep disorder that happens during lighter stages of sleep, like just after falling asleep or as you are waking up. It can cause a range of different behaviors or experiences.  


Sleepwalking is a type of parasomnia when a person carries on normal activities while they are still asleep. This can be exceptionally dangerous as they aren’t aware of their surroundings. As you can imagine, getting behind the wheel of a car or cooking would put them in danger. Other parasomnia behaviors include sleep texting, sleep-related scratching, or sexsomnia.


Sleep talking is another common parasomnia. It can range significantly from mumbling to having entire conversations with perfect articulation. This is different from catathrenia, which sounds like loud cracking, humming, or groaning.


Night terrors and nightmares also fall under the category of parasomnia. Night terrors can last up to 5 minutes and will wake the person up. Often they awake screaming, crying, sweating, and heart racing. The critical difference between night terrors and nightmares is a night terror doesn’t involve dream activity.


On the other hand, nightmares involve an intense dream scenario that causes fear, anxiety, or anger. For some, they can happen all night, continuously waking them up. The list of parasomnias goes on – REM sleep disorder, sleep-related eating disorder, bruxism, and bedwetting. Each one can be triggered by something different. The most common causes for parasomnia include stress, depression, PTSD, medications, irregular sleep schedules, sleep deprivation (insomnia), and neurological conditions.


There is no cure for parasomnias however treating the underlying triggers and cause can ease the symptoms.  There are also other remedies like therapy and hypnosis that may help.




This sleep disorder causes extreme drowsiness during waking hours and sudden attacks of sleep. Often those with narcolepsy have difficulty staying awake for periods of time and thus find it disrupts their life significantly.


It is considered a chronic condition with no cure. There are two different types. Type 1 narcolepsy can be triggered by a strong emotion and causes a sudden loss of muscle tone. When this happens, the person may experience slurred speech, physical changes, and severe weakness. Type 2 does not cause muscle tone loss.


Often those who have narcolepsy also experience sleep paralysis. Sleep paralysis is the inability to move or speak when falling asleep or when waking up. Though these episodes are temporary, they can be frightening for the individual.  Research has found that this sleep paralysis mimics the paralysis experienced during our REM sleep, which prevents us from acting out our dreams.


Hypnagogic hallucinations are also common for those who have narcolepsy. Typically these occur as they are waking up and can be frightening. It is as if a dream and wakeful state are co-existing, which can mean the person sees things in their bedroom as they are waking that isn’t really there.


Restless Leg Syndrome


Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) is a neurological sleep disorder that can cause a great deal of discomfort and disturbance to one's sleep. With RLS, a person will feel uncomfortable sensations in their legs and an urge to move them. When they are in bed, it can worsen, making it challenging to fall asleep. Some describe the feeling as a crawling sensation or itching inside the legs.


The cause of RLS is unknown; however, those over the ages of 45 or those with low iron levels, diabetes, kidney failure, or on specific medications may be more at risk. There is no cure; however certain medications, as well as lifestyle changes, may ease symptoms. 


The Mayo Clinic recommends applying heat or cold. A microwavable heating pad may lessen the sensations felt in the legs. Alternating between hot and cold can also help, as well as raising legs with a pillow. A cooling pillow may help those who benefit more from cold than heat. 

Doctors recommend those with RLS keep a diary, tracking their symptoms and home remedies that work.  This sleep condition, like many others, have support groups and associations that provide support to those experiencing it. 


Shift Work Disorder


Also known as a circadian rhythm sleep disorder, shift work disorder is caused by working irregular hours. Shift work is when a person alternates between working days and nights or works outside of the hours of 7 am and 6 pm.  As the name describes, these working hours disrupt an individual's circadian rhythm and makes it very difficult for them to sleep.


The American Academy of Sleep Medicine’s International Classification of Sleep Disorders describes two primary symptoms of shift work disorder. The first is insomnia, where individuals have trouble falling and staying asleep. So, for example, if a person works from 9 pm to 5 am and then goes home to get some sleep, they are much less likely to get a total of 8 hours of sleep. They may toss and turn, finding it difficult to fall and stay asleep. As a result, the average shift worker gets 1 to 4 hours less sleep every night. The second symptom of shift work disorder is excessive sleepiness. Fatigue and reduced alertness may affect them all day, including during work. This can cause increased safety risks.


Shift work disorder can cause other health issues and long-term consequences.  Research has found that those who work shifts are at higher risk for unhealthy eating habits, disease, and alcohol and drug dependency.


The type of job the individual is working can also make symptoms worse. For example, if they are a nurse or work in a factory where they are on their feet all night, it can cause back and leg pain. This pain can then make it difficult for them to get comfortable and fall asleep. By taking a hot bath with Epsom salts or using a microwavable heating pad, this pain may be reduced and help them fall asleep.


Night Sweats


Although not a sleep disorder, it certainly is a disturbance. Sweating is normal at night, and many people do, however excessive perspiration during sleep can cause tremendous discomfort. Those who experience night sweats will awaken to sheets and bedding soaked in sweat.


There are different causes of night sweats like menopause, certain medications, hormone issues, and even infection. The temperature regulation system in our bodies is very complex, and many things can influence it. This is why it is so important to bring it up with a doctor, yet most people who do experience night sweats don’t. 


In addition to discussing it with your physician, those experiencing night sweats should keep their bedroom temperature low, use a cooling pillow, and reduce the number of blankets on their bed.


Sleep Paralysis


In addition to co-occurring with narcolepsy, some people may experience sleep paralysis independent of any other sleep condition. Just imagine waking up on your sobakawa pillow in the morning, stuck to your mattress, unable to move as if you were completely paralyzed. 


For these short but terrifying moments, the person can’t speak and may also experience hallucinations like seeing a stranger standing over their bed or a person trying to hurt them. Although this disorder can affect some individuals regularly, many people will experience an episode at least once in their life.   Research suggests that between 25% to 40% of people have experienced sleep paralysis once. 


Sleep paralysis often occurs just as a person is waking up, so it doesn’t usually affect one’s quality of sleep; however, if it happens frequently, it can cause anxiety which creates other sleep disturbances. There isn’t a cure but treating the underlying cause can reduce occurrences.


Many other sleep disturbances like insomnia, sleep apnea, and periodic limb movements of sleep (PLMS) can cause a great deal of distress and reduce one’s quality of life. Sleep is just as critical to your health as food, water, and air. Your health and wellness depend on it. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms listed in this article, be sure to speak with your doctor. An underlying health condition can cause sleep disorders and disturbances, so it is best to rule out any potential complications while simultaneously trying home remedies and lifestyle modifications.  

Back to blog

Related Articles