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Sleep disorders

3-minute 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 affect your energy levels, as well as 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 such as from a GP who can identify the cause of your insomnia and suggest treatments. 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.


Snoring is very common. It can be caused by 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.

You can treat snoring by using a special mouthguard that opens your airway, with laser treatment on the roof of your mouth or your throat, or by treating allergies or unblocking your nose. Snoring can be improved in children by removing their tonsils. Sometimes, therapies that encourage you to sleep on your side can be helpful.

Sleep apnoea

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.

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.

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Last reviewed: August 2018

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