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Sleeping problems


Sleep Disorder: types & symptoms

Everyone has a sleepless night from time to time. You stare at the ceiling for hours and just don’t fall asleep. An occasional night of lying awake is not so bad, but if sleep problems persist, you may have a sleep disorder. When do you talk about a sleep problem? And which sleep disorders are there?

When do you have a sleep problem?

You don’t immediately have a sleeping problem if you happen to have slept badly for two nights. You only speak of a sleep problem when you suffer structurally from insomnia and this also affects your daily life negatively. [1]

Not everyone suffers from the same sleep complaints. Perhaps you spend hours staring at the ceiling and do not fall asleep. Another person suddenly falls asleep at random times during the day. Both disrupt sleep quality differently.

If symptoms persist and recur, you may have a sleep disorder.

Facts about the Netherlands and sleep disorders

  • In 2017, about 1 in 5 Dutch people aged 25 and older suffered from sleep problems. [2]
  • In 2018, it was 25% of the Dutch population [2].
  • Insomnia due to problems with sleeping is about 1.5 times more common in women than in men [3].


How do sleep problems arise?

A sleep disorder is usually the instigator of your sleep problem, especially if your symptoms persist. But problems with sleep can also arise from psychological complaints, or pain.

  • Sleep problems due to psychological complaints include depression, stress, fretting or an anxiety disorder.
  • Sleep problems due to physical complaints are, for example, pain or itching.


Sleep disorders & characteristics

If you have persistent sleep complaints, you may well be suffering from a sleep disorder. The characteristics differ for each sleep disorder. For example, you may sleep too much, or too little. A sleep disorder can also manifest while you sleep. For example, you wake up suddenly sweating and anxious.

Sleep disorders can be divided into 2 general categories.

  1. The amount of sleep you get. These are sleep disorders that are reflected in changes in sleep requirements, sleep duration and sleep rhythm.
  2. Quality of your sleep. These are sleep disorders that are manifested when you sleep and disrupt your sleep stages or sleep functions.


Sleep disorders that affect the amount of sleep

This category includes sleep disorders that affect your sleep requirement, sleep duration or sleep rhythm. The most common five types;

  1. Insomnia. Insomnia is the medical nomenclature for sleeplessness. Insomnia is when you do not fall asleep, cannot sleep well or simply cannot sleep. It is the most common sleep disorder.
  2. Hypersomnia. In hypersomnia, you sleep excessively. You sleep a lot at night, but you are also sleepy during the day and have a lot of trouble staying awake.
  3. Circadian rhythm sleep disorder. In this disorder, the circadian sleep rhythm is disturbed. You can think of the circadian rhythm as your internal, biological clock. The biological clock tells you what makes you sleepy or what, on the contrary, makes you awake and alert. With a disturbed circadian rhythm, your sleep rhythm is shifted or disrupted. Think, for example, of jet lag after a trip. In a circadian rhythm sleep disorder, your sleep rhythm is disturbed or shifted, only without a different time zone involved!
  4. Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome (DSPS). In DSPS, your sleep-wake rhythm is shifted to at least two hours later than normal.
  5. Narcolepsy. In narcolepsy, you fall asleep suddenly or your muscles slacken. This is often caused by unexpected emotions, for example when you are startled. Narcolepsy is fortunately rare and easy to control with medication and the right lifestyle.


Sleep disorders that affect the quality of sleep

In this category, we distinguish three types of sleep disorders; sleep-related breathing disorders, sleep-related movement disorders and parasomnia.


Respiratory disorders

This includes sleep disorders involving disturbed breathing during sleep. Breathing is obviously essential and also an automatic process that you cannot control during sleep. The most common disorder in this category is sleep apnoea.


Sleep apnoea

With sleep apnoea, during sleep, your breathing may suddenly stop for 10 seconds or longer. This happens because your brain is temporarily deprived of oxygen. Your brain sends a signal to your body to wake up.

  • You can also fall asleep just like that during the day.
  • Often you snore loudly.
  • You don’t get into a deep sleep. This often makes you tired again during the day and ensures that you are not well rested.


Sleep-related movement disorders

This category includes disorders where you show uncontrolled movements or experience physical discomfort during sleep. In many cases, the movements are not violent enough to wake you up. Most common disorders are:

  • Restless legs (RLS). Also called Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS). You constantly feel like you need to move your legs (or other body parts) making it very difficult to sleep in and through.
  • Periodic Limb Movement Disorder (PLMD): In periodic limb movement disorder, your legs make violent, jerky movements while you sleep.
  • Teeth grinding.



Parasomnia is the collective term for complaints and symptoms of unwanted behaviour during your sleep. Examples include:

  • Sleepwalking. Your body makes automatic movements while your brain is still asleep.
  • Nightmares. Disturbing dreams that trigger shocking and sometimes even terrible images, emotions and feelings, both during sleep and after waking up.
  • Sleep-drunk. You are conscious but because your body and brain are still half asleep you have no control over your thoughts or movements. This leads to you being able to do strange things and appear ‘clumsy’ or ‘drunk’, sometimes even aggressive, when waking up.
  • Sleep apnea. The body is still asleep, but the brain is already awake. This makes you unable to move.
  • Hypoagnonic hallucinations. Hallucinations occur because control disappears in processing stimuli. Your bodily and mental functions shut down and hallucinations may occur.
  • Pavor nocturnus. Also called “night terror” or “night anxiety. You wake up at night in an anxiety attack for no specific reason.
  • Eating attacks. We distinguish 2 types. In both cases, you wake up several times during sleep with insatiable hunger. Only after eating something do you usually fall asleep again.
    • The ‘Night Eating Syndrom’ or nocturnal eating disorder (NES)
    • ‘Sleep Related Eating Disorders’ or sleep-related eating disorder (SRED)

You don’t necessarily have to have one type of sleep disorder. Your sleep symptoms could be caused by one or more underlying factors.

Are you unsure whether your symptoms are due to ‘regular’ sleep problems or whether one or more sleep disorders are involved after all?



[1] Van Dongen, H., Rogers, N. L., & Dinges, D. F. (2003). Sleep debt: Theoretical and empirical issues. Sleep and Biological Rhythms, 1(1), 5-13.

[2] https://www.cbs.nl/nl-nl/nieuws/2019/34/arbeidsongeschikten-melden-vaakst-slaapproblemen

[3] Suh, S., Cho, N., & Zhang, J. (2018). Sex differences in insomnia: from epidemiology and etiology to intervention. Current psychiatry reports, 20(9), 1-12.


Help with sleep disorders


Find out more about insomnia and what a poor sleep rhythm does to you. Do you recognise any of the sleep problems or sleep disorders and keep having a poor night’s sleep? The advice on how to improve your sleep quality may offer a solution.

  • phone-icon

    Want help? A psychologist will help you discover whether you have a sleep disorder and what treatment is appropriate for your problem. Speak to a psychologist by calling +3185-0294610

  • help-icon

    iPractice works with Blended care. This means that online support is interspersed with offline contact with a psychologist. Once every one to two weeks, you’ll visit an iPractice psychologist on site for a 45-minute consultation. Online support is weekly.

  • medical-icon

    Do you keep experiencing symptoms? Treatment for your sleep problem is then an option. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is regularly used to discover if you have thoughts that disrupt your sleep pattern.

publish-icon Published - 22 Oct 2021
Nearly a quarter of the world population suffers from sleep problems.
carlos hoogenboom ipractice psycholoog
GZ-Psychologist Carlos Hoogenboom

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