Common Sleep Disorders

If you have chronic problems during sleep, you're not alone. Over one-third of the general population suffers from some kind of sleep disorder. The Emory Sleep Center treats a wide spectrum of these conditions, including:


Insomnia is the inability to fall asleep or periods of wakefulness during the night. It afflicts up to 10 percent of the population.

Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a disorder that causes a cessation of breathing during sleep for intermittent periods of 10 to 60 seconds, that can disturb an individual’s sleep hundreds of time throughout the night without their knowledge.

As many as 18 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea. It is more common among men, those who snore, are overweight, have high blood pressure or physical abnormalities in their upper airway. Sleep apnea requires treatment, as it lowers blood-oxygen levels, puts a strain on the heart and has been associated with high blood pressure, stroke, headaches, depression, daytime sleepiness and a higher likelihood of diabetes and being involved in a car accident.

There are 2 main types of sleep apnea:

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

This is the most common type of apnea and occurs when the soft tissue in the back of the throat collapses and blocks the airway, causing an individual to stop breathing or take shallow breaths while sleeping.

The airway blockage can be caused by a variety of factors including:

• Excess weight
• Alcohol consumption before sleep
• An unusually large tongue
• Large tonsils
• The position  of the jaw in proportion to the air passage
• Excess tissue in the upper throat or nasal passages

Symptoms include:

• Loud snoring followed by a period of silence
• Night sweats
• Waking up during the night gasping or choking
• Waking up unrefreshed or with a headache
• Sleepiness or trouble staying awake during the day
• Irritability due to fatigue

Central Sleep Apnea

This form of sleep apnea is a result of breathing pauses during sleep. It is most often associated with both brain problems (for example, stroke) and heart problems.


Narcolepsy is an irresistible need to sleep no matter how much sleep you get. It can manifest in sleep attacks while talking, driving, or working, which last anywhere from 30 seconds to 30 minutes.

The onset of narcolepsy usually occurs between 15 and 30 years of age and is caused by the disturbance of REM (rapid eye movement) sleep into a waking state.

The four key symptoms include:

• Excessive daytime sleepiness
• Cataplexy (episodes of muscle weakness during emotional periods of laughter, anger, or surprise)
• Sleep paralysis (an inability to move when first waking up or falling asleep)
• Hypnagogoic hallucinations (dreamlike images that occur at the point of drifting off to sleep)


This disorder encompasses a range of sleep events including:

• Nightmares
• Sleepwalking
• Seizures
• Acting out of strange behaviors, even violence, during sleep

Parasomnia is rare, but it can cause extreme disruption to an individual's daily functioning and family life.

Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) or Periodic Limb Movements (PLM)

RLS and PLM cause a person's legs or other limbs to jerk or move during sleep, which disrupts sleep and results in excessive fatigue during the day.

• The jerks typically occur every 20 to 40 seconds.
• RLS causes a crawling or tingling sensation in the legs that is only relieved by moving the legs. 


The main symptom of Idiopathic Hypersomnia is a pervasive daytime sleepiness despite adequate, or more typically, extraordinary sleep amounts (e.g., > 10 hours per night). Additional symptoms and complaints commonly encountered include unrefreshing or non-restorative sleep, and sleep inertia and sleep drunkenness (e.g., feeling of grogginess and disorientation upon awakening from a deep sleep). The usual age of onset is in the mid-to-late teens although it can begin at a later age. Symptom intensity often varies between weeks, months, or years, can worsen just prior to menses, and can spontaneously remit in 10-15% of patients. Sleep is usually described as “deep” and arousal from sleep is usually difficult, often requiring multiple alarm clocks and morning rituals to ensure that patients arise for school or work. In contrast to the short and generally refreshing daytime naps observed in genuine narcolepsy, those in IHS patients can be very long – on the scale of hours – and are unrefreshing. A history of hyper-sensitivity to other drugs that further enhance GABA receptor function such as alcohol, anesthetics, or sedative-hypnotics can often be elicited.

  • Do you sleep more than 10 hours a night?
  • Do you find it difficult to wake up in the morning?
  • Do you wake up from a full night's sleep and still feel unrefreshed?
  • Are stimulant medications, for example Adderall or Dexedrine, ineffective at making you feel more alert?
  • Do you fall asleep inadvertently during the day?
  • Do you have sibling, parent or child who has been diagnosed with a disorder of excessive daytime sleepiness?

If you answered "Yes" to several of the questions above, you may benefit from further evaluation by a sleep clinician. To make an appointment at the Emory Sleep Center please call 404-712-7533.