When managing sleep challenges it is important to determine whether or not you’re suffering from one of the common sleep disorders before making a treatment plan. These are a few of the common sleep disorders that may require medical intervention.

4 Common Sleep Disorders

Sleep is a core physiological function that impacts many other important areas of functioning. As we know, 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. So, it’s important to take steps to effectively manage sleep challenges, particularly when a sleep disorder may be the cause. It’s important to understand what type of sleep condition we’re dealing with, as effective approaches to managing sleep will vary and some sleep disorders can have a significant impact on a persons well-being. There are a number of common sleep disorders  – the ones we are going to be discussing are, insomnia, restless leg syndrome, sleep apnea and narcolepsy. 


Insomnia is the most common sleep disorder – it’s characterized by difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep and/or early morning awakenings. Therefore, individuals with insomnia feel unrefreshed upon awakening and feel fatigued during the day. Insomnia can be acute or chronic.

How to Manage Insomnia (acute)

Insomnia can be acute – meaning it’s short term, typically tied to a short-term life situation or circumstance, and sleep generally improves when the stressor has resolved. Acute insomnia can often be effectively managed by implementing good sleep hygiene principles

How to Manage Insomnia (chronic)

Insomnia can also be chronic – lasting a few weeks or even a few months. The most effective treatment for chronic insomnia is cognitive behavioural therapy (or CBT) – which focuses on targeting thoughts and worries about sleep as well as treating other anxiety or mood issues that may be contributing. CBT is delivered by psychologists and clinical counsellors. 

If you’re dealing with chronic insomnia, it’s always wise to see a family physician to rule out any physiological contributors. However, keep in mind that sleep medications, while effective in the short-term, often make chronic sleep problems worse in the long-term – and CBT and sleep hygiene is the best-recommended approach.

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 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.

Final Thoughts

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

If you’re looking for support with ongoing sleep problems and wish to speak to a counsellor, sign up for a referral with Dr. Joti Samra & Associates.