Common Sleep Disorders

If you have chronic problems during sleep, you're not alone. Over one-third of the general population suffers from some kind of sleep disorder. The Emory Sleep Center treats a wide spectrum of these conditions, including:


Insomnia is the inability to fall asleep or periods of wakefulness during the night. It afflicts up to 10 percent of the population.

Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a disorder that causes a cessation of breathing during sleep for intermittent periods of 10 to 60 seconds, that can disturb an individual’s sleep hundreds of time throughout the night without their knowledge.

As many as 18 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea. It is more common among men, those who snore, are overweight, have high blood pressure or physical abnormalities in their upper airway. Sleep apnea requires treatment, as it lowers blood-oxygen levels, puts a strain on the heart and has been associated with high blood pressure, stroke, headaches, depression, daytime sleepiness and a higher likelihood of diabetes and being involved in a car accident.

There are 2 main types of sleep apnea:

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

This is the most common type of apnea and occurs when the soft tissue in the back of the throat collapses and blocks the airway, causing an individual to stop breathing or take shallow breaths while sleeping.

The airway blockage can be caused by a variety of factors including:

• Excess weight
• Alcohol consumption before sleep
• An unusually large tongue
• Large tonsils
• The position  of the jaw in proportion to the air passage
• Excess tissue in the upper throat or nasal passages

Symptoms include:

• Loud snoring followed by a period of silence
• Night sweats
• Waking up during the night gasping or choking
• Waking up unrefreshed or with a headache
• Sleepiness or trouble staying awake during the day
• Irritability due to fatigue

Central Sleep Apnea

This form of sleep apnea is a result of breathing pauses during sleep. It is most often associated with both brain problems (for example, stroke) and heart problems.


Narcolepsy is an irresistible need to sleep no matter how much sleep you get. It can manifest in sleep attacks while talking, driving, or working, which last anywhere from 30 seconds to 30 minutes.

The onset of narcolepsy usually occurs between 15 and 30 years of age and is caused by the disturbance of REM (rapid eye movement) sleep into a waking state.

The four key symptoms include:

• Excessive daytime sleepiness
• Cataplexy (episodes of muscle weakness during emotional periods of laughter, anger, or surprise)
• Sleep paralysis (an inability to move when first waking up or falling asleep)
• Hypnagogoic hallucinations (dreamlike images that occur at the point of drifting off to sleep)


This disorder encompasses a range of sleep events including:

• Nightmares
• Sleepwalking
• Seizures
• Acting out of strange behaviors, even violence, during sleep

Parasomnia is rare, but it can cause extreme disruption to an individual's daily functioning and family life.

Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) or Periodic Limb Movements (PLM)

RLS and PLM cause a person's legs or other limbs to jerk or move during sleep, which disrupts sleep and results in excessive fatigue during the day.

• The jerks typically occur every 20 to 40 seconds.
• RLS causes a crawling or tingling sensation in the legs that is only relieved by moving the legs.