4 Common Sleep Disorders

by Tamzin Birch

Written by Dr. Joti Samra, R.Psych.

4 Common Sleep Disorders

Sleep is a core physiological function that impacts many other important areas of functioning. Consistently getting less than 6 hours leads to a range of health consequences, and consistently getting more than 9 hours leads to excessive lethargy and fatigue. Unfortunately, one-third of people struggle with chronic sleep difficulties. When we’re dealing with sleep challenges, it’s important to understand what type of sleep condition we’re dealing with, as effective approaches to managing sleep will vary. There are a number of sleep disorders and conditions – some of the most common sleep disorders include insomnia, restless leg syndrome, sleep apnea and narcolepsy.



Insomnia is the most common sleep disorder – it is characterized by difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep and/or early morning awakenings. Individuals with insomnia feel unrefreshed upon awakening and feel fatigued during the day. Insomnia can be acute or chronic. The most effective approaches to insomnia include implementing good sleep hygiene habits, and cognitive behavioural therapy.

Read more about insomnia and how to effectively manage it in our other article Sleep & Insomnia.


Restless leg syndrome

Restless leg syndrome is a sensory disorder characterized by an irresistible urge to move one’s legs (and sometimes arms). This is due to uncomfortable, tingling, or creeping sensations. The sensations are usually worse at rest, especially when lying or sitting, as well as at night which is why it can cause significant sleep disruptions. 

Effective treatments, which should always be discussed with a family doctor, can include:

  • Reduction or elimination of caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol; 
  • Supplementation of iron, folic acid, magnesium and/or calcium;
  • Exercise and stretching; and,
  • Warm baths or cold compresses.  


Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a common but underdiagnosed and possibly life-threatening sleep disorder. It primarily impacts men who are overweight, have a thick neck girth, and are heavy snorers. The primary feature of obstructive sleep apnea is a partial blockage of airways causing abnormal breathing patterns and sleep disruptions (specifically repeatedly stopping breathing in the night). 

Treatment includes:

  • Weight loss;
  • Minimization of alcohol; and 
  • Treatment by a CPAP or BiPAP machine which provides positive airway pressure during sleep.



Narcolepsy is a more rare sleep disorder characterized by frequent periods of sleepiness (both gradual and sudden sleep attacks), sometimes associated with cataplexy (or muscle weakness). These sleep attacks can occur at any time throughout the day and during any type of activity. 

Treatment includes stimulant pharmacotherapy and stress management. Lifestyle adjustments such as avoiding caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine, regulating sleep schedules including scheduled daytime naps (typically 10-15 minutes in length), and establishing a regular exercise and meal schedule may also help to reduce symptoms.

If you think you may have one of these conditions speak to a health professional about getting an official diagnosis and making an effective treatment plan.


Dr. Joti Samra, R.Psych. is the Clinic Founder of Dr. Joti Samra, R.Psych. & Associates and the CEO and Founder of MyWorkplaceHealth. Learn more about their clinical counselling and workplace consulting services.

Editor’s Note: This article is from Dr. Joti Samra, R.Psych. & Associates, and has been republished with permission.