Sleep Disorders: Therapy & Treatment

Instructor: Emily Cummins
In this lesson we'll discuss some common sleep disorders, including insomnia and circadian rhythm disorders. We will also look at some of the treatments used to help relieve sleep problems.

Sleep Disorders

We all have trouble sleeping from time to time. Some nights, we toss and turn for hours, never really falling into a restful sleep. When this happens once in a while, it's totally normal. But sometimes an inability to sleep becomes more serious. Tossing and turning night after night usually signifies a bigger problem. In this lesson we'll talk about a few different sleep disorders and the treatments we might use to address them. Let's start by looking at a few common sleep disorders.


Insomnia is characterized by difficulty falling or staying asleep. Symptoms of insomnia can vary from person to person. But often the disorder involves waking up too early or waking up multiple times during the night. This can lead to daytime tiredness, lack of attention, and general feelings of not being well-rested. When insomnia is causing us to not sleep enough, it can lead to things like tension headaches, anxiety, and depression.

Insomnia can also be caused by conditions like anxiety or depression. These issues can make it difficult for us to fall asleep. Worrying about work or problems at home can also lead to trouble sleeping. Certain diseases like cancer or heart disease can cause insomnia. It's also possible for certain medications to cause insomnia.

Circadian Sleep Disorders

Ever notice that afternoon slump? Do you find yourself reaching for a cup of post-lunch coffee? Most of us find that we are generally sleepier at certain times of the day. This is largely due to our circadian rhythms, which are basically patterns that lead to mental and behavioral changes throughout a 24-hour period. Circadian rhythms are endogenous, meaning they occur inside of us, but they can be impacted by external factors. These rhythms are controlled by what we call biological clocks, which coordinate our rhythms and let us know when to sleep.

Sometimes, though, our circadian rhythms might be thrown off, which causes problems with sleeping. This can be the result of a circadian sleep disorder. Let's talk about some of these now.

Delayed sleep phase syndrome (DSPS) makes it difficult for people to fall asleep until well into the night. People with DSPS often stay up very, very late and then sleep late into the morning or afternoon. However, during this time they tend to sleep well. It's just that they sleep in much later than many other people.

Non-24-hour-sleep-wake disorder (Non-24) is a circadian rhythm disorder that makes it difficult for people to follow a 24-hour clock. Basically, it's marked by a desire to sleep a lot during the day and very little at night. It's is quite common in people who are blind. The brain is not signaled by natural light, as in people with sight, and this throws off the 24-hour clock.

Advanced phase sleep disorder (APSD) is sort of the opposite of DSPS. Instead of going to bed very late and getting up very late, people with APSD go to bed very early and get up very early.

Shift work disorder is a disruption to the circadian rhythms that happens when people work nights or switch working shifts frequently. This makes it difficult to follow a normal routine and can impact our sleeping.

So what can we do if we have these disruptions to our sleep? Let's talk about treatment options for addressing sleep disorders.

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