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While insomnia is the most common sleep disorder, there are various other sleep disorders that also contribute to lack of effective sleep, but can be mistaken for insomnia.

Here are several sleep disorders that should be ruled out and managed prior to considering primary insomnia:

  • Excessive sleepiness:
    • Excessive sleepiness is not a disorder in itself. It is a serious symptom that can have many different causes. Some of the common causes range from poor sleep habits, reduced opportunity for sleep, side effects from medications and other medical conditions. It is the leading complaint of patients who visit sleep clinics and can have drastic, long-term side effects on your health.
  • Obstructive sleep apnea:
    • Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a sleep disorder in which your breathing is briefly and repeatedly interrupted during sleep. The term apnea is when is a pause in breathing that lasts at least ten seconds. Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the muscles in the back of the throat fail to keep the airway open. Common symptoms include daytime sleepiness and snoring among others.
    • Episodes of OSA typically end with the person waking up suddenly in order to reopen his or her airway. As a result, people with OSA often experience excessive sleepiness during the day.
    • Although less common, central sleep apnea or CSA is a disorder where the brain doesn’t properly send signals for proper breathing and should also be considered.
  • Narcolepsy:
    • Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder that is characterized by excessive sleepiness, sleep attacks, sleep paralysis, hallucinations and for some, sudden loss of muscle control. Narcolepsy with cataplexy (a sudden loss of voluntary movement) has been found to be related to a loss of cells in the brain that secrete orexin. Orexin is a chemical in the brain that is important for regulating wakefulness.
    • This disorder usually has an early onset in childhood or adolescence. Common symptoms of narcolepsy include daytime fatigue, vivid-like hallucinations while falling asleep or waking up and disrupted nighttime sleep.
  • Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS):
    • RLS also known as Willis-Ekbom Disease is a disorder that is characterized by an overwhelming urge to move the legs when they are at rest. Researchers suspect that this condition may be caused by an imbalance of the brain chemical dopamine which aids in controlling muscle movement.
    • People who have RLS may experience unpleasant sensations as well as the urge to move their legs. These symptoms commonly occur during inactivity and they are temporarily relieved by movement. RLS symptoms can be very severe in the evening and at night which can disrupt a patient’s sleep and daily life.
  • Shift-work disorder:
    • Shift work disorder is a chronic condition that is directly related to a person’s work schedule. It is considered to be a circadian rhythm sleep disorder. Patient’s with this condition have a hard time sleeping when sleep is desired or expected.
    • Some occupations that may experience shift-work disorder include truck drivers and overnight nurses.


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