Sleep disorders are divided into three categories: lack of sleep, disturbed sleep, and excessive sleep. Each category of sleep disorder is characterised by different symptoms. This page guides your through common sleep disorder symptoms within each category.
If you recognise the symptoms we cover, speak to your doctor. Getting a proper diagnosis and the right treatment is the best way to improve your sleep.
If your lack of sleep is not caused by external factors like shift work or childcare, you may have insomnia.
Insomnia may affect your body in a number of ways. You may:
find it hard to fall asleep
have difficulty staying asleep
wake up early in the morning
wake up still feeling tired
feel tired throughout the day
Insomnia may also affect the way you think and feel. You may:
worry about your lack of sleep
find it hard to concentrate
get angry easily
feel low or tearful
If your sleep is disturbed by your own involuntary behaviour during the night, you may have a disruptive sleep disorder.
To help you identify the sleep problem you are having, we explore the symptoms of each type of disruptive sleep disorder below.
Also called sleep terrors, night terrors are type of sleep disorder called a parasomnia.
You may have night terrors if you experience the following symptoms:
waking from sleep suddenly with a scream
dilated pupils and a look of terror
fast breathing and rapid heartbeat
high blood pressure
You may not wake fully when this happens and probably won’t recall the incident in the morning.
Sleepwalking is another type of parasomnia. People who sleepwalk may do one of more of the following during the night while they are asleep:
get out of bed
walk around the house
prepare or eat food
walk out of the house
try to drive a car
If you sleepwalk, you may appear to be awake when you aren’t. Your eyes may be open, but you will not acknowledge other people. You probably won’t remember sleepwalking in the morning.
Confusional arousals are a parasomnia where you appear to awake from a deep sleep but behave strangely. You may:
have slurred speech
not remember things
Confusional arousals normally happen in the first part of the night. You may fall back to sleep and not remember the episode.
If confusional arousals happen in the morning this is called sleep inertia.
Everyone has nightmares from time to time. But persistent nightmares can affect your wellbeing.
Symptoms of nightmare disorder include:
frequent vivid, upsetting dreams that cause you to wake up from fear
trouble falling back to sleep because of the distress
anxiety during the day about your dreams
feeling tired or low in energy
Sleep paralysis is a parasomnia that may happen while you are falling asleep or waking up. The main symptom is being conscious but unable to move or speak.
If you experience sleep paralysis you may feel a pressure on your chest that makes it hard to breath. You may also imagine there is someone else in the room.
If you appear to act out your dreams in the night, you may have a parasomnia called REM sleep behaviour disorder. While you are dreaming you may start:
If you wake up during the episode, you will probably remember your dream.
If your breathing pauses temporarily or becomes shallow while you’re asleep, you may have obstructive sleep apnoea. Common symptoms you may experience include:
pauses in breathing
waking up with a headache
feeling sleepy during the day
If your legs repeatedly move during sleep, you may have periodic limb movements in sleep (PLMS). This is also known as periodic limb movement disorder.
The main symptom of this sleep disorder is making movements with your legs while you are asleep. These movements may repetitive, rhythmic, and frequent. You may also feel tired throughout the day.
If you find it hard to maintain a regular pattern of sleep, you may have a circadian rhythm disorder. Common symptoms you may experience include:
trouble getting to sleep
trouble staying asleep
not feeling rested when you wake up
If you have trouble staying awake during the day, you may have an excessive sleep disorder.
There are two common types of excessive sleep disorder: hypersomnia and narcolepsy. We discuss the symptoms of each below.
If you are excessively sleepy during the day, you may have hypersomnia.
This sleep disorder may cause you to fall asleep during the day or take lots of naps. Despite sleeping long hours at night and during the day, you still feel tired.
If you fall asleep suddenly, at inappropriate times during the day, you may have narcolepsy. Other symptoms include:
cataplexy (loss of muscle control)
hypnogogic hallucinations (hallucinations as you fall asleep)