Symptoms of sleep disorder

Last published 5 June 2020

Sleep disorder symptoms

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.

Read on to understand more about each type of sleep disorder.

Lack of 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
  • feel anxious

Disturbed sleep

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.

Night terrors

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
  • sweating
  • 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
  • get dressed
  • 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

Confusional arousals are a parasomnia where you appear to awake from a deep sleep but behave strangely. You may:

  • appear confused
  • have slurred speech
  • respond bluntly
  • 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
  • trouble concentrating
  • feeling tired or low in energy

Sleep paralysis

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.

REM sleep behaviour disorder

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:

  • making noises
  • punching
  • kicking
  • flailing

If you wake up during the episode, you will probably remember your dream.

Obstructive sleep apnoea

If your breathing pauses temporarily or becomes shallow while you’re asleep, you may have obstructive sleep apnoea. Common symptoms you may experience include:

  • loud snoring
  • pauses in breathing
  • laboured breathing
  • waking up with a headache
  • feeling sleepy during the day

Periodic limb movements in sleep (PLMS)

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.

Circadian rhythm disorder

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
  • difficulty concentrating
  • headaches
  • coordination problems
  • tummy upset

Excessive sleep

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:

  • sleep paralysis
  • memory problems
  • cataplexy (loss of muscle control)
  • hypnogogic hallucinations (hallucinations as you fall asleep)
  • trouble sleeping through the night

Are you having trouble sleeping? Complete a self-assessment for advice.

We’re doing a short, anonymous survey as we’re keen to ensure that our website meets your needs.

Click here to tell us about your experience with Good Thinking and the chance to win one of four £50 Amazon e-vouchers!

Maybe later – we'll ask you again in a few days

Click here if you'd rather not — we understand!