I’ll be honest. I write about sleep a lot, and until I started researching this piece, I didn’t know there were 80 different sleep disorders. That’s a whole lot of different types of troubled sleep.

Sleep disorders affect an estimated 70 million adults in the United States. One thing most if not all sleep disorders appear to have in common? They’re pretty significantly under-diagnosed. That means a lot of us are walking around with sleep disorders of one kind or another and not getting treatment. That’s risky for our health, and also compromises how well we think and feel, how well we function in our relationships, and how much pleasure and enjoyment we can get out of life.

I’m not to run down the full 80 right here, right now. (We’ll save exploding head syndrome for another day.) But let’s take a look at two of the most common sleep disorders out there:


About a third of adults in the U.S. experience one or more symptoms of insomnia. Those core symptoms are:

  • Difficulty falling asleep
  • Waking often throughout the night, even briefly
  • Waking very early in the morning and not being able to fall back asleep
  • Having poor quality sleep that’s not refreshing—meaning it leaves you feeling tired, fatigued, or “off” the next day

A smaller group of American adults—about 10 percent—experience symptoms of insomnia that are serious enough to cause problems in their daily lives. Maybe work piles up because your productivity is off, or you experience more conflict in your relationships because you’re overtired. (Read our overview of insomnia, here.)

Certain people are at higher risk for insomnia:

  • Women
  • People with illnesses, mental or physical
  • People who take medications
  • People who are under stress
  • People who are middle aged or older

Latest news on insomnia: A just-released study from the University of Pennsylvania shows that short periods of insomnia (known as “acute insomnia”) are common even among people who generally sleep well. About 25 percent of “good sleepers” may experience bouts of acute insomnia within a year. Most are able to recover their strong sleep routines, but a small percentage go on to develop chronic insomnia.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea, or OSA, is a condition of sleep-disordered breathing. (Read our sleep apnea rundown, here.) In people with sleep apnea, the airway becomes temporarily obstructed—either partially or fully—interfering with normal breathing. This causes the hallmark symptom of sleep apnea: snoring, which is often loud and chronic and episode of gasping for breath.

Sleep apnea affects approximately 24 percent of men and 9 percent of women. About 80-90 percent of people with sleep apnea are undiagnosed.

Certain people are at higher risk for sleep apnea, including:

  • People who are overweight
  • People with large neck circumference (more than 17 inches for men, and 16 inches for women)
  • Middle aged and older men
  • Post-menopausal women
  • People with a family history of sleep apnea

Latest news on sleep apnea: Brand new research has shown that untreated sleep apnea is associated with changes to the brain that occur in the earliest phases of dementia. The study’s authors suggest that screening for and treating sleep apnea may help reduce risks of cognitive decline in older adults. While a sleep study is best to diagnose sleep apnea, there are also user friendly apps and at home tests that will give you useful information about your sleep quality that you can share with your physician.

There’s a lot to learn about these and other sleep disorders. But the most basic knowledge sleep experts want us to know? Don’t ignore these sleep problems.


Written by Caitlin Reynolds