Sleepless in the States: Sleep Disorders in the U.S By the Numbers

Sleepless in the States: Sleep Disorders in the U.S By the Numbers

  • Insomnia 30% 
  • Obstructive Sleep Apnea 24% mild to moderate;  4% Severe
  • Restless Leg Syndrome 10%
  • Delayed Sleep/Wake Phase Disorder 10%
  • Shift Worker Disorder 2%

Sleeping seems so simple–just lay down and close your eyes. But the reality is far more challenging. Millions of Americans are suffering from a variety of sleep disorders that lead to chronic fatigue and sleep deprivation. This not only impacts quality of life but also puts them at risk of developing other, more serious health concerns later in life. 

There are a few sleep disorders that impact more than all the rest. So here’s your list of the top 5 disorders and how you can recognize them in yourself or loved ones:


Insomnia seems to be a very common word used to describe any kind of sleep difficulty, but the actual disorder is something different. Insomnia is marked by a difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep for a long period of time. Often, 30% of Americans with clinical insomnia experience severe fatigue and exhaustion but somehow are unable to fall asleep for one of several reasons. 

If you had one bad night of tossing and turning, it’s likely you don’t have insomnia. However, short-term insomnia, or being unable to fall or remain asleep for a few days, is fairly prevalent, affecting 30% of the U.S. population. Chronic insomnia is far more challenging and can impact individuals for weeks, months, and even years of their lives. This is less common, impacting about 10% of U.S. adults. 

If you believe you’re experiencing insomnia, talk to your doctor about your concerns and work to develop a good bedtime routine: no electronics, no caffeine after 2pm, and make sure to go to sleep at about the same time every night. 

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Aside from Insomnia, Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is one of the most problematic sleep disorders in the United States. Affecting about 24-28% of the adult population, OSA is a condition where the airways are temporarily blocked during sleep, cutting off airflow, and forcing the body to wake up to correct the obstruction. Most who suffer from OSA may not even know they have it because they don’t fully wake up and wouldn’t know that they are experiencing the disorder. 

Mild to moderate sleep apnea, which is marked by 5-15 breathing pauses per hour of sleep, is more common. But severe sleep apnea can cause 30 or more breathing pauses per hour. While this only affects about 4% of the population, it can put an individual in great danger of choking or developing serious health issues like heart attack, stroke, diabetes, or cancer. 

Sleep apnea is easily treated with either CPAP or AutoPAP therapy, but these treatments require a doctor’s prescription based on the results of a sleep test. If you are worried about OSA, be sure to consult your physician or seek out sleep testing of your own. 

Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS)

Restless Leg Syndrome is a sleep disorder that affects roughly 10% of American adults. You may be experiencing RLS if you have uncomfortable or annoying sensations in your legs when you lay down to rest. Often, it’s easy to relieve the sensations in your legs by standing up or moving around, but this impedes sleep by making you too uncomfortable to get any good rest. 

RLS can happen to anyone, but there are some links to RLS from other conditions. It’s possible your RLS could be caused by pregnancy, iron deficiency, certain antidepressants, or excessive use of alcohol, caffeine, or nicotine.

There is no real cure for RLS, except to take care of yourself: massage, dietary changes, exercise, rationing caffeine, quitting smoking, etc. Be sure to consult with your primary care physician or a sleep doctor to figure out ways that may best help your unique situation. 

Delayed Sleep/Wake Phase Disorder

Sleep/Wake Disorders are also commonly referred to as “circadian rhythm sleep disorders,” because they are characterized by changes to the biological clocks humans have developed over centuries of sleep patterns. 

Sleep is a deeply biological act as it helps regulate hormone production. As humans have developed specific sleep patterns, so have our bodies developed systems that take advantage of those patterns. 

However, times have changed and the basic “sleep at night, wake during daytime” system has been disrupted by everything from electronic use to graveyard shifts. You may be one of the 10% of adults suffering from Sleep/Wake disorders if you have difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, waking up too late/early, or just getting poor sleep in general. 

Treatments can range from medication to self-care, but be sure to speak with your doctor or a medical professional before starting any kind of therapy. 

Shift Worker Disorder

Shift Worker Disorders is a particularly modern problem that’s arisen from the frequency of shift work, especially shift work that overlaps with standard sleeping times. While Shift Worker disorder may only affect 2% of the general population, it impacts 10% of all night shift workers and almost 40% of night-shift drivers. 

Very similar to Sleep/Wake Phase Disorder, Shift Worker Disorder happens because your body is biologically programmed to sleep during certain times of the 24-hour day. By interrupting your biological clock, often because you have to work, your body is now challenged to sleep during biological periods of wakefulness. Essentially, shift workers turn their sleep schedule on its head and then struggle to adapt. 

There are some treatments and therapies to either reset the biological clock or, if shift work is an unavoidable reality, force your body to embrace a new biological sleep schedule. Either way, be sure to talk to a medical professional about how to do either of these options safely and successfully. 

If you believe you are one of the millions of Americans suffering from some kind of sleep disorder, it’s imperative that you seek out medical advice and treatment as soon as possible. 

Sleep is one of the most important things we can do for our physical and mental health, so remedying your sleep disorder should be a high priority. Whether you believe you need sleep testing or even just a better nighttime routine, start the process today to get better sleep and experience a higher quality of life. 

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