From sleep apnea to insomnia: 8 sleep disorders keeping us awake at night

If you’re having serious trouble sleeping, you may be suffering from a sleep disorder.
Published 11 February, 2019

Do you find yourself lying awake at night? Feeling exhausted when you wake up? Experiencing symptoms that affect your quality of sleep?

You’re not alone.

The number of tests undertaken by the NHS to diagnose patients with sleep disorders has doubled in England over the past decade.

This is according to figures released by the NHS in 2017, which show that 147,610 sleep diagnostic tests were carried out last year, compared to 69,919 in 2007/8.1

If you suspect you may have one of the following disorders, it is advisable to make an appointment with your GP or a sleep specialist.

Sleep apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea is a common yet serious disease where the airway becomes blocked during sleep, limiting the amount of air that reaches your lungs. In addition to disturbing sleep, it can also result in low blood oxygen levels.


Insomnia is a common sleep complaint where people have trouble falling and staying asleep. People with insomnia may experience fatigue, low energy, difficulty concentrating, mood disturbances and decreased performance at work or school.

Restless leg syndrome

Restless leg syndrome is characterised by an overwhelming urge to move the legs while at rest. Symptoms are most severe in the evening and at night-time and may disrupt sleep and daily life.

Periodic Limb Movement Disorder (PLMD)

Periodic limb movements in sleep are repetitive movements typically occurring in the lower limbs every 20-40 seconds. These movements may look like a muscle twitch, jerking movements, or an upward flexing of the foot. Episodes can last from a few minutes to several hours and can contribute to chronic insomnia or daytime fatigue. 

Teeth grinding

If you clench your jaw or grind your teeth regularly during sleep, it can lead to dental damage, facial pain and disturbed sleep. Also known as bruxism, it's often related to stress or anxiety.

Night Eating Syndrome (NES)

People with night eating syndrome consume most of their daily caloric intake during the late evening and early morning hours. Individuals typically eat a lot after their evening meal, have trouble sleeping and eat when they wake up at night.2


The prevalence of sleepwalking in the general population is estimated to be between 1 and 15%, according to the National Sleep Foundation.3 Individuals perform a series of complex behaviours that range from simply sitting up in bed to walking around the room or even leaving the house. Common triggers include sleep deprivation as well as sedative agents (including alcohol) and certain medications.


Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder characterised by excessive sleepiness, sleep paralysis, hallucinations, and possible episodes of cataplexy (sudden muscular weakness triggered by strong emotions such as laughter, anger and surprise). Individuals with narcolepsy may involuntarily fall asleep during normal activities.

Weight loss and sleep disorders

Of all the disorders described above, the condition most closely related to obesity is sleep apnea. 

Various studies between 2009 and 2013 reveal that two-thirds of patients with obstructive sleep apnea have obesity, and a high proportion of patients with obesity and type 2 diabetes also have obstructive sleep apnea.4,5,6

Weight loss produces clinically significant improvements in the severity of sleep apnea among various patient types and among various obstructive sleep apnea severity levels.4,5,6 

Are you ready to lose weight with WW? Find out more about the programme and start your journey today.


1. BBC news article 

2. The Alliance for Eating Disorders Awareness 

3. Figures from the National Sleep Foundation 

4. Foster GD, Sanders MH, Millman R, Zammit G, Borradaile KE, Newman AB, Wadden TA, Kelley D, Wing RR, Sunyer FX, Darcey V. Obstructive sleep apnea among obese patients with type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Care. 2009; 32(6): 1017-1019. 

5. Tuomilehto H, Seppń J, Uusitupa M, Tuomilehto J, Gylling H, Kuopio Sleep Apnea Group. Weight reduction and increased physical activity to prevent the progression of obstructive sleep apnea: a 4-year observational postintervention follow-up of a randomized clinical trial. JAMA internal medicine. 2013; 173(10): 930-932.

6. Johansson K, Neovius M, Lagerros YT, Harlid R, Rössner S, Granath F, Hemmingsson E. Effect of a very low energy diet on moderate and severe obstructive sleep apnoea in obese men: a randomised controlled trial. Bmj. 2009: 339, b4609.p. 2012;35(11):1503-1510.