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Sleep disorders

3 min read

What is a sleep disorder?

A sleep disorder is a condition that prevents you from getting restful sleep and can cause daytime sleepiness and problems in functioning. Signs you may have a sleep disorder include persistent difficulty going to sleep or staying sleeping, irregular breathing or movement during sleep, and feeling sleepy during the day.


Insomnia is difficulty going to sleep, or difficulty staying asleep. If you have insomnia, it is likely to not only affect your energy levels, but also your mood, health and quality of life.

Short-term (acute) insomnia is often caused by a particular circumstance, such as a crisis at work or home. If your life is being affected you may seek professional help say from a GP. To help you get by until things settle down, a doctor may assess that you are not developing something more serious like depression and suggest some techniques to improve sleep function. The use of any sleeping pills is only very short term and must be reviewed by your doctor regularly as they can be addictive.

If you have longer-term (chronic) insomnia doctors generally recommend making sure you have good sleep habits. They may also recommend non-drug treatments such as cognitive behavioural therapy, which is designed to help you change unhelpful thoughts and behaviours.

Sleep apnoea and snoring

Sleep apnoea occurs when your breathing stops and starts repeatedly during sleep. It is caused by the temporary but repeated collapse of the airway at the back of the mouth. Common symptoms include loud snoring, waking up gasping and struggling to stay awake during the day.

Sleep apnoea has been linked to a range of health problems, including high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. In many people, it can be treated using an oral appliance (like a mouthguard) that helps keep your airways open while you sleep. Other people will need nasal continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) which pumps air under gentle pressure to help keep your airways open. Some people will benefit from surgery.

Causes of snoring include being overweight, drinking alcohol and smoking. Some allergies can also cause you to snore. Either way, if snoring is causing problems in your household, see your doctor.

Other sleep problems

Other sleep problems include:

  • shift work disorder, which is sleepiness and/or insomnia associated with your work schedule
  • narcolepsy, which is repeatedly falling asleep during waking hours
  • restless legs syndrome, which is an irresistible urge to move the legs while trying to sleep.

For more information about sleeping problems, visit the Sleep Health Foundation website.

Last reviewed: October 2016

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