Skip to main content
Dartmouth-Hitchcock logo
Summer Flowers In This Section

Symptoms of Sleep Disorders

Excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS)
Circadian rhythm sleep disorders: Disturbances of timing of the sleep-wake cycle


Snoring is an indication of turbulent airflow through the upper airway.

What causes snoring?

As we fall asleep, the muscles in our upper airway relax. When this occurs, the airway becomes narrowed. The distinctive sound of snoring comes from the flow of air through the upper airway passages causing the surrounding tissues to vibrate. The more restricted your air passages become, the greater the vibration and the louder your snoring. Loud snoring is a common symptom of a potentially life-threatening sleep disorder called obstructive sleep apnea.

What factors contribute to snoring?

  • Obesity
  • Enlarged tonsils and adenoids
  • Elongated palate or uvula
  • Chronic nasal congestion
  • Deviated nasal septum
  • Alcohol and sedating medication

You may not be aware that you snore, but your family or friends could be. Since snoring can be a symptom of a serious problem, and one that can be treated, it is important for anyone who snores loudly to discuss the problem with a health care provider, especially if you are overweight or drowsy during the daytime.

Back to top

Excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS)

Excessive daytime sleepiness is the inability to maintain wakefulness during normal "waking" hours. Someone with EDS feels very drowsy during the day and has an overwhelming urge to fall asleep, even after getting enough nighttime sleep. EDS is a common symptom of several sleep disorders and can also be associated with medical illnesses.

What are common causes of EDS?

  • Insufficient sleep (poor sleep hygiene, jet lag, sleep deprivation)
  • Sleep apnea
  • Narcolepsy
  • Periodic limb movement disorder
  • Medical illnesses/medications

What are the consequences of EDS?

EDS becomes problematic when you uncontrollably and unintentionally fall asleep in situations where you want, and often need, to stay awake. It can interfere significantly with a person's ability to concentrate and perform daily tasks and routines. People with EDS often report having difficulty with relationships, in social situations and in the workplace.

In our experience, it is common for people who are sleepy to be unaware of the extent of the problem. Over time, people adjust to a decreased level of alertness, which they perceive to be "normal." Sometimes it is the family member or friend who contacts us because of concerns about the sleepiness. At other times we are contacted by people whose jobs are threatened, who have had near misses or accidents due to falling asleep while driving, or who can no longer keep up their usual activities.

If you think you are suffering from EDS, please use this simple questionnaire (PDF) to determine the level of your daytime sleepiness. Then see your doctor for a medical evaluation and bring your completed questionnaire with you.

Back to top


Insomnia is difficulty in falling asleep and staying asleep despite achieving adequate sleep the previous night.

What are the different types of insomnia?

  • Transient insomnia: Usually lasts only a few nights. Some common causes are excitement, stress, jet lag or illness. This type of insomnia usually does not require treatment.
  • Short-term insomnia: Prolonged periods of stress, worries, and illness, which result in two to three weeks of poor sleep. When the stress or worries subside, sleep usually returns to normal. Sometimes individuals receive treatment for short-term insomnia from their primary care provider.
  • Chronic insomnia: Also known as long-term insomnia. It typically occurs three or more nights per week for more than a month. An individual with this type of insomnia would benefit from treatment.

What causes chronic insomnia?

Insomnia, which is viewed as a symptom of some underlying problem, has been associated with a variety of factors.


  • Erratic hours: An inconsistent sleeping schedule can disrupt the bodies ability to sleep.
  • Stress, anxiety, or worry: Temporary anxieties such as giving a presentation at work or life changes like death or divorce.
  • Caffeine beverages: Use of caffeinated beverages near bedtime, even if it doesn't interfere with onset of sleep, can trigger awakenings later in the night.
  • Smoking: Nicotine is also a stimulant and smokers may report more sleep problems.
  • Alcohol: Although alcohol can induce sleep, it is likely to make sleep more fragile throughout the night.

Sleep environment factors

  • Noise: It can disturb and lessen the quality of sleep even if it does not cause the sleeper to wake up. Common examples are television, passing traffic, or airplanes.
  • Light: The issue is not merely how light affects your eyes. Light also affects the way your brain produces hormones that regulate your sleep rhythms. Even a minimal amount of daylight shining through closed curtains can disrupt your sleep.
  • Temperature: If you are too warm or too cold, you are less likely to sleep soundly.
  • Bed partner: A bed partner who snores or is a restless sleeper can compromise your own quality of sleep.

Psychological health

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Conditioning: You can sometimes become set in the habit of sleeping poorly.

Back to top

Circadian rhythm sleep disorders: Disturbances of timing of the sleep-wake cycle

  • Sleep disorders: Such as sleep apnea or periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD) can cause the sleeper to have frequent awakenings during the night.
  • Chronic medical conditions: Many medical conditions may be associated with insomnia. Common examples include arthritis, chronic pain, breathing difficulties, heart conditions, neurological problems, and frequency of urination.
  • Medications: Medications can contribute to sleeplessness. Common examples are asthma medications, blood pressure medications, cold/allergy medications, stimulants, and certain anti-depressants.
Contact Us