Sleep Disorders


Sleep disorders are a medical disorder involving sleep patterns. Some sleep disorders may interfere with normal physical, mental, and emotional functioning, and can be caused by external factors, such as anxiety, depression, trauma, or a life transition. The symptoms typically involve difficulties related to sleeping, including difficulty falling or staying asleep, falling asleep at inappropriate times, excessive sleep time, or abnormal behaviors associated with sleep. It is a relatively common disorder.

Types of Sleep Disorders

Sleep disorders are divided into four types in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-IV):

  1. Primary sleep disorders
    1. Dyssomnias
    2. Parasomnias
  2. Sleep disorder related to another mental health condition
  3. Sleep disorder due to a general medical condition
  4. Substance-induced sleep disorder

Because there are over one hundred specific sleep disorders, experiencing one in your lifetime is not uncommon.

Common Sleep Disorder Symptoms

The most common sleep disorder symptoms include:

  • Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Physical illness
  • Depression, anxiety, or stress
  • Physical discomfort
  • Daytime napping
  • Counterproductive sleeping habits such as early bedtime or excessive time spent awake in bed

Therapy for Sleep Disorders

Some sleep disorders are attributed entirely to a medical condition, while many often have psychological roots. Many sleep disorders develop during a difficult transition in one’s life, or as the result of anxiety or depression. Psychotherapy can be instrumental in helping one work through a sleep disorder, regardless of the cause.

There are many different types of psychotherapy that may be used to help treat sleep disorders. Many of these different styles of therapy focus on changing behaviors, setting and achieving goals, becoming more self-aware, learning relaxation skills, and empowering the client to take control of his or her own situation. After establishing the root cause, therapists can teach people various skills to change unwanted sleep patterns.

Sleep Disorders as a Medical Issue

Sleep disorders may be caused by medical conditions, or may cause medical issues such as physical discomfort and illness that may need to be treated medically. Depending upon the actual illness(es) associated with sleep disorders, medical treatment may play a large role in treating sleep disorders and their symptoms. Medical assistance for sleep disorders often includes medication.

Stress and Sleeping Problems - Case Example

Patrick, 28, found himself on the verge of changing jobs and was having a hard time sleeping. He would wake up at odd intervals and struggled to fall asleep in the first place, often tossing and turning all night. During the day he was irritable around friends and experienced a great deal of anxiety before going to bed, with the assumption that he would never get to sleep. As time passed Patrick was having a hard time functioning, and decided to see a therapist. Therapy revealed an ambivalence about the career change he was making, as well as a general anxiety about how his life was proceeding. Patrick learned to focus on what was important to him and realized that some minor steps could make a big difference towards finding contentment and getting some rest.

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Last updated: 07-03-2015

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