Which Sleep Disorder Do I Have?


If you’re struggling to get enough sleep , waking up feeling groggy or not able to sleep at all, chances are that you could be suffering from a sleep disorder.

Remember in elementary school when we used to brag about pulling an all-nighter? Well, for some people, they’d be happy to sleep at all, while others have no control over when, where, and how they sleep.

rem sleep behavior disorder

We’ve compiled a guide to the most common sleep disorders. If you recognize your symptoms here, make an appointment with your doctor to work out if you can overcome your sleep problems and return to normal life.

Sleep Disorders Guide

REM Sleep Behavior Disorder

Rapid Eye Movement Sleep Behavior Disorder is when you physically react to your dreams while in your deepest stage of slumber. For example, if you dream you’re falling off a cliff, you might scream, kick, or desperately claw things in real life.

Luckily, REM Sleep Behavior Disorder has some very noticeable symptoms so you can catch them early.

  • Vocal Responses: screaming, laughing, talking, whispering, shouting, and sobbing—if your voice is making the noise during REM sleep, it’s a symptom.
  • Movements: kicking, punching, hitting, flailing, and jumping—if your limbs are reacting, it counts.
  • Remembering dreams: if you or someone else withdraws you from an episode into waking and you remember the dream you were having, that may be a symptom.

Usually, when people sleep, their brain signals to their muscles to halt any movement — effectively paralyzing them — so REM Sleep Behavior Disorder occurs when these nerve pathways malfunction.

Don’t worry though, because there are ways to treat this disorder along with safety measures used to ease daily living.

  • Securing the Environment: removing sharp objects, padding the floor, and any other measures you can take to make your bedroom safer is recommended in case an episode occurs
  • Medication: the two main medication doctors may prescribe are Klonopin and Melatonin—as always, medications have potential side effects so be sure to discuss them with your doctor if you’re diagnosed with REM Sleep Behavior Disorder.

Shift Work Sleep Disorder

sleeping disorders

By United States Navy with the ID 070814-N-6906S-010

Shift Work Sleep Disorder is when you have difficulty sleeping at certain times of the day or you find the sleep you get to be unsatisfactory, which is often related to working during the night or your work schedule frequently changing.

For example, if you have trouble staying awake during work at night because you couldn’t fall asleep when you had the time to do so during the day. This is like a localized version of jet lag.

Shift Work Sleep Disorder presents some very noticeable symptoms although you’ll likely know if you have it already: shift workers who can’t sleep properly, put your hands up!

  • Excessive Sleepiness: having trouble staying alert, trouble concentrating, lack of energy, and falling asleep when you’re supposed to be productive.
  • Mood: irritability, difficulty socializing, and depression can be linked to this disorder.
  • Sleep Symptoms: inability to sleep when needed, trouble falling asleep, waking up too soon, and feelings of insufficient sleep.

We all have something known as a circadian rhythm, which is basically your body’s personal clock that tells it when it needs to sleep.

Generally, our bodies use certain cues as indicators of when is an appropriate time to sleep. For instance, non-shift workers will stay awake when it’s light outside and go to bed after sunset.

Shift Work Sleep Disorder occurs when your circadian rhythm is challenged — like when you suddenly switch from being asleep during the night to working, or if your body can’t predict your schedule.

Rest assured, there are a couple of solutions for Shift Work Sleep Disorder.

  • Bedtime Routine: darkening the room or wearing an eye mask, staying away from technology immediately before bed, playing soothing music or cancelling sound by wearing ear buds, and controlling the temperature are a few ways of training yourself to sleep whatever the time of day it is.
  • Medication: doctors may suggest nighttime supplements such as Melatonin to help align your circadian rhythm with your schedule. Remember, all medications carry possible side effects, so be sure to discuss them with your doctor. 


The most common sleep disorder, insomnia is when you struggle to sleep or you have difficulty staying asleep. For example, if you lay on your bed for hours and still can’t sleep despite your best efforts.

Insomnia can be a symptom of another illness such as depression, asthma, cancer, and arthritis, so be sure to ask you doctor if your medical history may be related to your sleeping patterns. But it also exists independently of other illnesses too.

Regardless of why you’re suffering from insomnia, there are clear symptoms of this sleep disorder aside from not being able to sleep properly:

  • Mood and Disposition: irritability, feelings of fatigue, sleepiness throughout the day, depression, and anxiety.
  • Functionality: difficulty completing tasks, trouble with memory, and hindered concentration.

Aside from another illness triggering insomnia, this disorder can also be caused by various other sources. Stresses, disturbances in sleep schedules, certain medications, external factors affecting the senses, and general discomfort can all account for minor forms of insomnia.

Again, if you’re unsure of the source of your insomnia, please consult your doctor as this disorder could be linked another illness.

There are some solutions for acute insomnia that may prove helpful in the meantime:

  • Bedtime Routine: go to bed at the same time every day, associate certain sensations with sleep (such as playing classical music to sleep), avoid technology immediately beforehand, and remain consistent with your routine.
  • Health: avoid caffeine, exercise regularly (although not in the couple of hours before bedtime), and avoid heavy meals before sleeping.
insomnia symptoms

Insomnia complications (By Häggström, Mikael (2014). “Medical gallery of Mikael Häggström 2014“. WikiJournal of Medicine 1 (2). DOI:10.15347/wjm/2014.008. ISSN 2002-4436. Public Domain)

Sleep Apnea 

Sleep Apnea is when you have difficulty breathing while sleeping: usually manifesting in loud snoring, gasping for air, or making choking sounds during sleep.

Sleep Apnea has some readily apparent symptoms that are fairly common among those affected.

  • Vocal: loud snoring, sudden gasping, choking, and waking up while sleeping because of difficulty breathing.
  • Sleep Related: insomnia, restless sleep, tiredness throughout the day, and lack of energy.
  • Physical and Psychological: mood changes, sore or dry throat, and trouble with memory.

Generally speaking, when we’re asleep the passageways of our throats are open to help with breathing normally. When that breathing path is obstructed or not open for some reason, we struggle with breathing, which is the cause of Sleep Apnea.

There are many possible reasons this obstruction can occur such as: over-sized tonsils, obesity, and inflammation due to allergies.

sleep disorders

CPAP mask for sleep apnea (By Larry and Teddy Page: CC BY 2.0 licence)

Sleep Apnea has a range of solutions with varying degrees of seriousness.

  • Behavior Changes: quitting smoking and alcohol, losing weight, and sleeping in different positions.
  • Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP): a mask covering the mouth and nose while you sleep that provides constant airflow.
  • Surgical Operations: this can range from tonsillectomies and nasal surgeries to restructuring operations—all of which involve risks so be sure to discuss them with your doctor beforehand.

>>> Check out our guide to the best CPAP pillows


If after reading about some of these sleep disorders, you feel you identify with one, it’s best to consult your medical professional.

Remember that every case is unique to the patient and therefore it should be understood that not all solutions are effective for everyone.

It is important to note that many of these disorders are possible to overcome and for those that aren’t, treatments are available and a great solution.

What sleep disorders do you suffer from?


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