Sleep Disorders: Stages, Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

Dr.Poonam Sharma

April 26, 2021

Summary: Sleep is a key body function that is very important for an outstanding quality of life. An average adult needs 7-8 hours of sleep per day. The quality of sleep along with the number of hours is important for a healthy mind and body. 

List of Contents: 

Sleep helps the body in:

  • Regulating metabolism
  • Weight management
  • Lowering stress levels
  • Preventing lifestyle diseases
  • Improving cognition and attention
  • Building immunity

If you are showing signs like:

1. Lying on the bed for hours trying to sleep.

2. Waking up in the middle of the night.

3. Feeling dull and sleepy even after sleeping through the night.

Chances are you may have a sleep disorder.

Stages of Sleep

Sleep is a state of reversible unconsciousness. You may think and feel your entire body is resting while you sleep. But that’s not the case. During your sleep, the cells in the body undergo cell repair and cell restoration. This is one of the major reasons you wake up refreshed after a good night’s sleep.

Sleep cycle and the four stages of sleep

Sleep cycle 

A typical sleep cycle has many rounds. Each round in the sleep cycle has four stages. So in an average night’s sleep, you undergo four to six sleep cycles. The length of the sleep cycles varies and lasts for about 90 minutes.

The four stages in a sleep cycle include: 

  •  Three NREM (Non-rapid eye movement sleep)
  •  One REM (Rapid eye movement sleep)

NREM Sleep 

There are three stages in NREM sleep:

Stage 1 (also called N1)

  • It lasts for a minute to five minutes and is the ‘dozing off’’ stage.
  • The activity of your brain and body slows down with periodic movements.

Stage 2 (also called N2)

  • It can last for about ten minutes to thirty minutes of the sleep cycle. 
  • In this stage, your body temperature lowers down.
  • Your muscles relax, and your breathing slows down. 
  • Your brain activity in this stage slows down, and the eye movement stops.
  • This is the stage where you spend about half of your sleep time.

Stage 3 (also called N3) 

  •  It lasts for about twenty to forty minutes. 
  • It is also the stage of deep sleep. 
  • Your body relaxes in this stage, and your heart rate and breathing decrease.
  • We also know this stage as short-wave sleep.
  • The N3 stage is very crucial.
  • It is this stage where your body restores, repairs and recovers and thus builds up the immune system. 

REM Sleep 

  • You enter REM sleep after 90 minutes of uninterrupted sleep.
  • This is the stage when dreams are very common. 
  • This is because your brain activity gradually increases. 
  • In the REM or Rapid eye movement stage of your sleep, your eyes though closed, move quickly. 
  • REM sleep makes up about 25% of your total sleep. As the sleep cycle progresses, this stage gets longer.

Causes of Sleep Disorders

Causes of Sleep Disorders

Sleep Disorder or Sleep-Wake disorder is a collective term for the conditions which affect your sleep habits. These conditions may affect the duration and the quality of your sleep. 

Few causes of sleep disorders are:

  • Poor sleep hygiene or poor sleep habits- for example, watching TV and using gadgets till late at night, exercising in the evening, and other such over-stimulating activities
  • Medications- few medications like blood pressure medications, cold medicines, steroids, certain antidepressants, etc. may cause sleeplessness and disrupt your sleep patterns
  • Caffeine- Drinking coffee/ tea near bedtime
  • Excessive alcohol consumption near bedtime
  • Few psychiatric disorders like anxiety, depression where insomnia and restlessness are common symptoms
  • Painful medical conditions or ailments like migraine, headaches, arthritis, etc
  • External issues like lack of peaceful environment, night shifts, and snoring of your partner
  • Genetics- Narcolepsy, which is a neurological sleep disorder, can occur because of hereditary factors
  • Aging – About 50% of the people aged above 65 report sleep disorders

Types of Sleep Disorders

Some of the most common types of sleep disorders include:

#1 Insomnia


A condition in which you have difficulty falling asleep and you are awake throughout the night.

#2 Narcolepsy


Also, a genetic condition in some. In this condition, you feel extremely sleepy during the day and can suddenly fall asleep during the day.

#3 Restless legs syndrome (RLS)

Restless legs syndrome (RLS)

It is a kind of sleep-movement disorder. Here, you have an uneasy feeling and a strong urge to move your legs while trying to fall asleep.

#4 Sleep apnea

Sleep apnea

Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder. In this condition, your body stops breathing and then breathes in a repeated manner. 

Symptoms of Sleep Disorders

The signs and symptoms of sleep disorders include:

  • Difficulty falling asleep
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Irregular sleep and wake cycle
  • Feeling sleepy during the day
  • Breathing irregularly or moving a lot during sleep
  • Feeling less energetic and tired during the day
  • Restless legs
  • Snoring loudly
  • Gasping for air
  • Sleepwalking or talking during sleep

Treatment Options

If you notice the above signs and symptoms, you should first see a doctor or a healthcare provider. He/ She will listen to your health issues and will address any concerns you may have. After diagnosing the condition and based on its severity, he/she will refer you to a sleep specialist. 

The sleep specialist may ask you many questions related to your health, sleeping habits, lifestyle, stress factors, underlying medical conditions, and any medications you are taking. After reviewing your symptoms, the doctor will advise you to undergo a sleep study. 

The sleep study is a test which records your body’s activity while sleeping. It determines if you have a sleep disorder and also the type of sleep disorder.

Your doctor will recommend the treatment options based on the type of disorder. The treatment options which your doctor may tell are:

  • Cognitive Behavior therapy – It is a type of counselling that helps you recognise and change the stress triggering factors affecting your sleep.
  • Medications – The doctor may prescribe medications like sleep-aids, etc. and supplements to help ease the symptoms.  
  • Lifestyle modifications – Practicing good sleep habits, avoiding alcohol and reducing intake of caffeine, etc.

Changes in lifestyle and practising good sleep hygiene can treat Insomnia. Narcolepsy, Apnea and Restless leg syndrome need medical intervention.

Home Remedies

Here is a list of a few home-remedies useful in controlling symptoms of Sleep-disorder:

  • Drink warm milk at bedtime – Milk has amino acids which induce sleep. You can also add honey for added benefits
  • Herbal teas– You can drink Chamomile tea. Chamomile has a sedative effect, which is a sleep-inducing herb. Other herbs which help with sleep problems are Valerian root and lemon balm
  • Essential oils – Lavender helps in calming the nervous system. You can pour 1-2 drops of lavender oil on your pillow
  • Bananas– Banana has magnesium and potassium. These two minerals are helpful in migraines and sleep problems
  • Oil massage– An oil massage helps you relax and release stress. According to the National sleep foundation, massage releases serotonin. Serotonin, the happy chemical, is a hormone that helps your body in regulating your mood, digestion, sleep, and many other body physiological functions
  • Epsom salt bath- A warm bath two hours before bedtime will help you relax and will also promote good sleep. Add some Epsom salt crystals and a few drops of lavender oil to the warm bath and soak in the bathtub
  • Yoga- Practice yoga, meditation, and mindfulness
  • Exercise regularly during the day. Take a brisk early morning walk for thirty minutes every day
  • Good sleep hygiene- practicing a regular sleep schedule, going to the bed at the same time every day
  • Dim off the lights an hour before bedtime
  • Adjust the room temperature as per your comfort
  • Have soundproof windows and minimize loud noises indoors
  • No electronics in the bedroom- avoid watching TV late at night and using electronic gadgets
  • Limit your caffeine intake
  • Avoid alcohol at bedtime
  • A good sleeping position-Sleeping on the back is best for good sleep 

Sleep disorders are not fatal, but they affect the quality of your life. They can affect you physically, mentally and emotionally. This can affect your weight, performance at work/home and also cause mental health issues. If left untreated, you may also develop serious health complications in the long run. You should see a doctor if you feel you are showing signs and symptoms of a sleep disorder. 

Exercising regularly, practising yoga, maintaining a healthy lifestyle and practising good sleep habits will help you in having a good night’s sleep.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q. How much sleep do I need?

A. The number of hours depends on the age of the person. An average adult needs 7-8 hours of sleep, while an infant needs 16 hours of sleep.

Q. What are some signs of a sleep disorder?

A. Some common signs and symptoms of sleep disorder are feeling sleepy and tired during the day, difficulty falling or staying asleep, night walking, night tremors, snoring, irregular breathing while sleeping.

Q. How can I get a better night’s sleep?

A. Exercise every day, avoid caffeine and alcohol at bedtime, go to bed at the same time every day and optimise your sleep environment.

Q. What is the most common sleep problem?

A. Insomnia is one of the most common sleep problems. It is a condition where you have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep.

Q. Is there a cure for sleep disorders?

A. The treatment depends on the cause of the disorder. In most cases, if there is no medical condition associated with the same- lifestyle changes and the medications prescribed by your doctor are the treatment options available.

About the Author

I, Dr. Poonam have 3+ years of experience in the field of Medicine. Currently serving as a Resident Physician at HealthifyMe, I have worked with premier hospitals such as Manipal Hospital, Bangalore as a Resident in Plastic and Reconstructive surgery and Rajiv Gandhi Government Hospital, Chennai as a Medical Officer. I aspire to put my knowledge in medicine to use in providing healthcare and fitness services to people and help enhance my abilities in meeting the ever-growing healthcare needs.

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