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Sleep problems - symptoms

Sleep problems, or sleep disorders, have different causes from lifestyle to medical conditions.

The symptoms will depend on what's causing a person's sleep problems.

What are the symptoms of sleep disorders?


Insomnia is itself often a symptom of other problems. Typical patterns of insomnia include the inability to fall asleep or stay asleep at night, waking up earlier than usual, and daytime fatigue. Most people with insomnia don't fall asleep in inappropriate situations, like driving. If this does occur, it may indicate that a medical disorder (such as sleep apnoea) is the cause of insomnia.

Sleep apnoea

Excessive daytime sleepiness is the primary symptom. Some people will deny sleepiness but feel fatigued. Other symptoms are snoring, snorting, and gasping sounds when you sleep -- often first noticed by a sleeping partner. Restless or unrefreshing sleep is also typical, as are headaches in the morning.


Excessive sleepiness during the day, alleviated by naps, is a symptom of narcolepsy. Dreaming during naps and experiencing dream-like hallucinations as you fall asleep are also warning signs. Loss of muscle control (called cataplexy) that occurs with emotion, such as laughing or anger, and the inability to move as you're going to sleep or waking up (called sleep paralysis) are also symptoms.

Restless leg syndrome

The primary warning sign is the irresistible urge to move your legs shortly after you get into bed, in the middle of the night after awakening, or even when wide awake during the day. It usually feels better if you get up to walk around or rub your leg. "Creepy-crawly" or twitching feeling in your calves, feet, thighs, or arms are symptoms of restless leg syndrome -- the sensations of discomfort can be quite varied. Kicking or twitching leg movements during sleep, and sometimes while awake, may be warning signs.

Seek medical advice if:

  • Your sleep does not improve with self-help techniques, such as establishing good sleep habits, cutting down on caffeine, being more active, and using relaxation techniques.
  • You think your sleep problems may be related to an underlying condition, such as depression or heart failure.
  • You snore loudly or make snorting or gasping noises while you sleep -- or your partner observes these things while you're asleep.
  • You fall asleep doing normal activities, such as talking or driving.
  • You regularly feel unrefreshed on awakening and are constantly fatigued. Sleep disorders are among the many possible causes of fatigue.
  • You suspect your medication is causing your sleep problems.
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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on April 19, 2016

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