10 Scary Sleep Disorders

Sleep disorders are always a problem, but some can be downright scary. Learn about 10 of the most serious sleep issues and how you and your doctor can put a stop to the symptoms.

We all remember waking up from nightmares as children. But for some people, that fright can manifest itself in real life in the form of a scary sleep disorder.

Some of these sleep disorders are frightening for the risk that they pose to you and your loved ones. Others, like night terrors, are literally frightening. Luckily, most can be managed with the help of a sleep specialist and some changes to your nighttime routine.

Here is a list of the 10 scariest sleep disorders, from sleep apnea to sexsomnia, and how each one can be treated.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

What It Is: One of the most common disorders on our list, obstructive sleep apnea, is characterized by pauses in breathing while you sleep. “Severe sleep apnea can cause irregular heart rate, lack of oxygen to the brain, and even death,” warns Mangala Nadkarni, MD, medical director of the Center for Sleep Disorders at the Saint Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, N.J. Long term, it increases the risk of hypertension, heart failure, and stroke.

How to Treat It: Apnea must be diagnosed with the help of a sleep specialist. Lifestyle changes such as weight loss and sleeping on your side, dental devices, surgery, or sleeping with a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine will also help.

REM Behavior Disorder

What It Is: People with REM (rapid eye movement) behavior disorder act out their dreams, which can cause harm to themselves or a sleeping partner if the dream is particularly violent.

How to Treat It: A medication called clonazepam is very effective in treating REM behavior disorder. Melatonin and certain antidepressants are also prescribed in some cases. People with this disorder should also make their bedroom safe by removing sharp objects or possibly sleeping alone until the condition is better managed.

Night Terrors

What It Is: Much more intense than your average nightmare, night terrors are most common in children and cause intense fear that will make your child almost inconsolable. A night terror is not technically a dream, but a strong reaction as a child transitions from one sleep phase to another. They usually occur two to three hours after sleep begins.

How to Treat It: It is best not to wake up your child because she will be disoriented. Instead, sit by quietly and make sure she doesn’t hurt herself. To try to stop night terrors from occurring, do your best to reduce stress in the child’s environment, prevent her from staying up too late, and create a calming, soothing bedtime routine. In some instances, medication may be needed to control the night terrors, says Matthew Edlund, MD, author of The Power of Rest and The Body Clock Advantage.


What It Is: One subset of a group of conditions known as parasomnias (abnormal activities that occur during a specific kind of sleep), sexsomnia is a disorder in which people act out sexually while sleeping. “In some cases they masturbate; in others they have full intercourse; and in others they engage in acts they do not do while awake,” says Dr. Edlund.

How to Treat It: Making the sleep environment safe and sleeping alone until the condition is better managed are both approaches to sexsomnia. Treating other sleep disorders and eliminating drug and alcohol abuse can also help. In some cases, medication is needed to address sexsomnia.


What It Is: The narcoleptic cannot regulate sleep-wake cycles normally, and this results in involuntary periods of sleep throughout the day, lasting from a few seconds to several minutes. These episodes can be extremely dangerous, depending on what you’re doing when you fall asleep, such as driving a car. Narcoleptics also can experience loss of muscle tone, hallucinations, and even paralysis during these attacks.

How to Treat It: Medication, supplemented by behavioral changes, are often effective in treating narcolepsy.

By Wyatt Myers