Disturbed sleep: what is the cause?

causes of disturbed sleep

Disturbed sleep is a quite common problem that affects people all over the world. Thus, only in the US from 50 to 70 million Americans have a sleep disorder that prevents them from getting healthy night sleep. Sleep disorders can develop at any age and every age group has specific types of sleep disorders. Thus, bed-wetting and nightmares develop in childhood, whereas insomnia is more common in elderly people. There are also such disorders that develop in childhood and accompany individuals throughout their life, for example, narcolepsy (pathological drowsiness). 

A variety of mental disorders and diseases affecting the central nervous system can cause disturbed sleep. In addition, pain, coughing, shortness of breath, arrhythmia or chest pain episodes, itching, nocturia (excessive nighttime urination) and other conditions can provoke problems with sleep. Intoxication of various origins (including chemotherapy) or hormonal abnormalities can often cause pathological drowsiness. Different sleep disorders have different causes, so let’s take a look at some of the most common ones. 


It is the most widespread sleep disorder that affects people of all ages. It is characterized by insufficient duration and/or poor quality of sleep occurring on regular basis during a long period of time (at least three times a week for one or two months). This condition can be caused by chronic stress, certain medications, Vitamin D deficiency, depression or anxiety, alcohol abuse, narcotic drugs, disturbed circadian rhythms due to shift work, neurological and physical disorders, poor sleep hygiene (stale air, too much noise or light, etc.)  

Sleep apnea 

Apnea is a serious sleep disorder characterized by repeated suspension of breathing during sleep that is most often manifested by loud snoring. It can cause other serious health problems such as hypertension, strokes, congestive heart failure, etc. People with this disorder may not be aware that they have disturbed sleep, but due to the poor quality of their sleep they tend to feel sleepy during the day. Sleep apnea can be induced by certain medications, high altitude, enlarged tonsils, deviated nasal septum, weak pharyngeal muscles and others. Obesity is among the most common risk factors for apnea. 

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) 

It is a neurological disorder characterized by unpleasant sensations in the legs that improve with moving them. Such sensations usually happen when at rest and thus make it more difficult to sleep. In most cases the causes of this condition are unknown; however, researchers suspect that genes play an important role in its development. Factors that can trigger or worsen RLS symptoms include pregnancy, some medications, certain chronic diseases (kidney failure, peripheral neuropathy, diabetes, iron deficiency), sleep deprivation and alcohol use. 


The medical term is somnambulism. This disorder causes people to get up and move around the house when they are asleep. The sleepwalker does not respond during the event and usually remembers nothing about it. Sleepwalking can run in the family, it can be triggered by sleep deprivation, certain psychiatric disorders, chronic or severe stress, fever, chaotic sleep schedule, nighttime asthma or seizures, medications like stimulants, neuroleptics, antihistamines, and sedative-hypnotics.