What Is Dyssomnia?

Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, MS, DO on February 27, 2024
4 min read

Dyssomnias affect the quality of your sleep, such as the amount or timing. Since there are many different types of dyssomnia, they can be caused by different things. Finding the cause of your dyssomnia can help you and your doctor choose the best dyssomnia treatment.

It’s estimated that between 50 million and 70 million adult Americans have a chronic sleep disorder that prevents them from getting a good night’s rest. There are many different sleep disorder types, including dyssomnias. These sleep disorders impact the quality and amount of sleep you get each night.

There are three kinds of dyssomnia that are grouped by cause. These include: 

Intrinsic sleep disorders are caused by some kind of internal problem. This means that there is a malfunction with your body’s internal sleep regulation. The most common examples include: 

  • Restless leg syndrome (RLS). People with RLS describe it as a feeling that starts in the lower legs but can cause pain or discomfort anywhere in the leg. You might feel a “creeping” sensation that gets better if you move your legs. This can make it hard to fall asleep.
  • Sleep apnea. This disorder happens when your upper airway becomes blocked as you sleep. It can force you to wake up gasping for air. People with sleep apnea often snore loudly. Sleep apnea can cause you to feel tired or fatigued during the daytime.
  • Insomnia. This disorder can be acute or chronic, lasting for weeks or months. There are two kinds of insomnia: primary and secondary. Secondary insomnia is caused by something external, like stress or medication. Primary is not external, so sometimes the cause is harder to find. Insomnia causes you to have difficulty falling or staying asleep. You might also wake up hours earlier than you should and can’t fall back asleep. During the day, you might feel overly tired, so your daily life becomes affected.
  • Periodic limb movements in sleep (PLMS). This sleep disorder causes you to jerk your arms and legs involuntarily while you sleep. The cause is unknown but the jerking often wakes the sleeper up and then later causes them to feel tired during the day.

Extrinsic disorders are caused by something in your sleep environment. Practicing good sleep hygiene includes:

  • Going to bed and getting up at the same time every day
  • Avoiding harmful blue light from devices such as cellphones in the hours before you go to bed
  • Keeping your bedroom cool and dark
  • Using your bed for sleep and sex only
  • Getting regular exercise during the day
  • Establishing a nightly bedtime routine that you perform every day
  • Eating a balanced diet that avoids caffeine before bed

Typically, this affects people who work shifts that aren’t aligned with traditional sleeping hours. People who work night shifts or have an irregular schedule may find it hard to fall and stay asleep. You might also experience this kind of sleeping disorder with jet lag.

Sleep disorder symptoms depend on the specific cause. However, there are some common signs to look out for:

  • It takes you longer than half an hour to fall asleep at night.
  • You can’t stay asleep and wake up frequently throughout the night.
  • You wake up too early in the morning and can’t fall asleep again.
  • You feel overly tired during the day.
  • Your partner notices that you snore heavily, toss and turn throughout the night, or move your limbs around as you sleep.
  • While falling asleep or napping, you have vivid dreams that feel real.
  • When you first wake up in the morning you feel like you can’t move or your body is heavy.

Sleep disorder treatment depends on what’s causing your dyssomnia. Your doctor can help pinpoint the disorder that’s causing you to not sleep well. You may need medication to help symptoms get better. Other people may benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy to remove the stress and anxiety around trying to sleep.

Tell your doctor about your symptoms. To help find the cause, your doctor may give you a physical exam or prescribe a sleep study. Sleep studies normally monitor things like:

  • Blood pressure
  • Changes in brain waves
  • Heart and breathing rates
  • Eye movement
  • Electrical activity of the heart and muscles.

Doctors recommend that adults try to get between seven and nine hours of sleep per night. This recommendation may not fit everybody, as some people may require more or less sleep.

Not getting enough sleep causes you to experience more than just sleepiness during the day. Lack of sleep can contribute to: 

  • Irritability 
  • Slow reaction times
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Learning disorders in children
  • Depression
  • Memory impairment
  • Personality changes
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease

Establishing good sleep habits can help. Remember that sleep disorder treatments are available for many different kinds of dyssomnia.