Understanding Sleep Problems -- Symptoms

What Are the Symptoms of Sleep Problems?


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.

Sleep Apnea

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, can be 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 Legs 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. A "creepy-crawly" or twitching feeling in the 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.

Call Your Doctor About Sleep Problems if:

  • Your sleep does not improve with self-help techniques, such as establishing good sleep hygiene, cutting down on caffeine, exercising, 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 for fatigue.
  • You suspect your medication is causing sleep problems

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Amita Shroff, MD on July 23, 2017



American Academy of Family Physicians. 

WebMD Medical News: "Trouble Sleeping? It Could Be a Warning Sign of Depression In Older People." 

American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. 

Lucile Packard Children's Health Services. 

Medline Plus: "Narcolepsy." 

Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

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