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Uncovering the Mystery: Why Sleep Disorders are Often Misdiagnosed

The Challenges of Getting a Correct Sleep Diagnosis

Sleep is one of the most important elements of our lives. We spend a third of our time doing it. We don’t even completely understand why we sleep. But when something goes wrong, it’s life-altering.

A sleep disorder is a condition that affects a person’s ability to function normally due to sleep quality, timing, or duration. Individuals with these disorders have difficulty falling or staying asleep, struggle to stay awake during the day, sleep at unusual times of the day, execute strange behaviors that disrupt their sleep, or some combination of the above.


If these problems are pronounced enough to interfere with your ability to get through the day, you're diagnosed with a disorder

Sleep disorders are among the most common, underrecognized, and misdiagnosed illnesses in medicine. It can be difficult to diagnose the right sleep disorder. Sometimes patients have multiple disorders and need to be treated for each of them individually. Sometimes there are co-morbidities that mask sleep symptoms, or practical barriers to care making the correct treatment options difficult to get.

Types of Sleep Disorders


Insomnia in its various forms is perhaps the most common and recognized sleep disorder. If you’re like 1/3rd of the rest of humanity, you may have experienced the frustration of insomnia: not being able to fall asleep, trouble staying asleep, waking up too early, or other manifestations of not being able to sleep enough.

But not all sleep problems involve the inability to sleep.

Sleep Apnea

Whenever a patient presents with excessive daytime sleepiness, and insomnia isn’t the obvious culprit, one of the first things investigated is sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea is a sleep-related breathing disorder in which patients have frequent reductions or pauses in their breathing patterns while they are sleeping. The types of sleep apnea are categorized by the cause of the breathing pauses. Up to one-third of adults in the US may have some kind of sleep-disordered breathing, but it often goes undiagnosed because the nighttime symptoms aren’t always recognized unless the patient has a bed partner.

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is the most common type of sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea is caused by airway obstruction at the back of the throat when the soft palate relaxes. This can cause loud snoring and sounds of choking, as well as frequent nighttime wakings that can leave the individual exhausted the next day.

Central sleep apnea is much less common. It is caused by a miscommunication between the brain and respiratory muscles and usually occurs because of genetics or environments with low oxygen.

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