Sleep Disorders

Information on the causes of sleep disorders and the effects of sleep deprivation.

Select a Topic

  1. What is Sleep Disorders?
  2. Diagnosing Sleep Disorders
  3. What Causes Sleep Disorders?
  4. Help for Sleep Disorders
  5. More Information for Sleep Disorders

What is Sleep Disorders?

Sleep is a vital ingredient needed for the body and mind to function. Most of our lives will be spent in slumber, re-charging our batteries for the day ahead. Regardless of the cause, interrupted or poor quality sleep can be extremely problematic. The brain which functions as the ‘battery’ of your body, needs adequate sleep to be able to perform it’s many functions correctly.

This includes things from handling emotion to regulating physical necessities such as body temperature, heartbeat and breathing. When quality of sleep is compromised and inadequate, the body cannot perform at its best, and many of the body’s systems are negatively affected.

Examples of sleep disorders include:

  • Sleep apnea (intermittent breathing during sleep due to an obstructed airway)
  • Snoring
  • Night terrors
  • Narcolepsy
  • Somnambulism (sleepwalking)
  • Nocturnal myoclonus (unusual movement during sleep)
  • Enuresis (bedwetting)
  • Bad dreams and nightmares

Insomnia, the common problem of not being able to fall asleep, is a symptom - not an illness – and may be linked to a variety of disorders and conditions such as depression, anxiety, stress or even hypoglycemia. Insomnia is also a common side effect linked to the use of certain prescription drugs such as antidepressants and stimulants.

Lack of sleep can lead to irritability and a lack of focus. Lack of focus means that certain activities can become greatly impaired. Everyday activities such as driving can become dangerous. Operating dangerous equipment can also lead to accidents when a person has been deprived of achieving restful sleep. For this reason, sleep disorders can sometimes have severe and devastating consequences at home and in the workplace.

Furthermore, a lack of sleep can exacerbate many other disorders. For example, a child with ADHD or ADD who has had several restless nights will be more likely to misbehave or demonstrate hyperactive behavior which is the body’s way of coping with lack of sleep. This symptom is often cited in childhood ADD/ADHD.

Some sleep problems may disappear on their own, while others develop into more serious sleep disorders such as parasomnias, obstructive sleep apnea, narcolepsy, insomnia, sleep paralysis, snoring, and seasonal affective disorder if left untreated.

Diagnosing Sleep Disorders

Although lying awake night after night is difficult to miss, some people may not even be aware that they have a sleep disorder, especially disorders like sleep apnea. However, it is usually relatively easy to determine if you or your children suffer from a sleep disorder. Fatigue and lack of energy are usually the most prevalent signs that the body is not getting enough rest. You may notice that you or your child exhibits the following characteristics:

While awake:

  • Excessive daytime sleepiness
  • Frequent yawning (the brain trying to get more oxygen)
  • Decreased speed at performing daily tasks
  • Memory problems
  • Lack of appetite

During sleep:

  • Snoring
  • Waking up often during the night
  • Tossing and turning, feeling restless and unable to get ‘comfortable’

Use of stimulant medications may create their own sleep problems. Stimulants are designed to do just that- stimulate. Stimulants then cause the brain and nervous system to work in overdrive, increasing heartbeat and heightening senses such as sight and sound. In this over-sensitive state, a person may try to fall asleep, but noises prove too distracting. This causes the brain to ‘fight’ its natural ability to become less active.

What Causes Sleep Disorders?

The existence underlying health conditions and symptoms can sometimes trigger sleep disorders. Common conditions that can cause sleep disorders include: 

  • Depression
  • Pain
  • Mood disorders
  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Alcohol withdrawal
  • Thyrotoxicosis

Children who suffer from bad dreams and night terrors may not be getting appropriate and restful sleep and therefore develop a sleep disorder.

A diet that is high in caffeine, fat, or sugars may also affect sleep patterns and trigger sleep disorders.

Help for Sleep Disorders

Sleeping disorders are treated in a variety of ways, depending on the disorder. When insomnia is linked to medication, it may be necessary to change the medication or reduce the dosage.

Doctors may prescribe sleeping medication to cope with insomnia and to induce artificial sleep. Unfortunately many prescription sleeping medications are habit-forming and do not encourage the re-establishment of sleep routines, certain OTC drugs, including histamines, are also often used to induce drowsiness. However, their effectiveness decreases over time and there can be other unwanted side effects.

More Information for Sleep Disorders

Bedtime Tips for Adults


  • Exercise during the day since this will naturally relax muscles and tire the body
  • Make dinner your lightest meal of the day
  • Create a relaxing bedtime environment
  • Make sure you sleep in pajamas that are appropriate for the temperature
  • Go to bed at regular times each night


  • Stay up late or sleep too late in the mornings. This will upset your natural ‘body clock’
  • Drink caffeinated beverages
  • Take stimulant medication before bed
Bedtime Tips for Children


  • Encourage exercise and stimulating activities during the day
  • Create a soothing and relaxing bedtime environment
  • Read light-hearted stories before bedtime (Make sure the story is not a frightening one!)


  • Let children watch television or play on the computer directly before bedtime.
  • Give your children large amounts of food or liquid before bedtime. Digestive troubles and a full bladder can lead to bad dreams, restless sleep and bedwetting.
  • Give your child medications containing stimulants right before bedtime.
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