11 Rare Sleep Disorders You Should Know About

woman trying to sleep

Many people are aware of common sleep disorders, and some may not be aware that a rare sleep disorder may be affecting their sleep.

One major thing all sleep disorders have in common is that they all interfere with your ability to get optimal rest. Your ability to play, work, and care for your family and your health may be affected. Your family and your partner’s sleep may also be affected depending on the condition.

Sleep disorders are rare, but you can get back to better sleep with an early diagnosis and proper treatment. Now let’s explore 11 rare sleep disorders you should know about.

Sleep Terrors

Sleep terrors are rare sleep disorders that can occur at any age but most frequently occur in children. Your child may appear awake but is, in fact, asleep. They may yell, scream, be agitated, sweat, and appear terrified.

Symptoms and Causes of Sleep Terrors

Symptoms of sleep terrors include fear, anger, suddenly sitting upright, shouting, sweating, a quicker heartbeat, and thrashing around.

Night terrors are caused by over-arousal of the central nervous system (CNS) while asleep.

Diagnosis and Treatment for Sleep Terrors

As a parent, you should monitor your child and soothe them back to sleep if they are experiencing a sleep terror. If their symptoms are reoccurring, you should consult your child’s doctor.

When your child is experiencing a sleep terror, you should wait it out or try to soothe your child back to a peaceful slumber. Since night terrors usually occur around the same time every night, you should wake your child up 15 minutes before the night terror begins and ease them back to sleep. This may lessen your child’s night terrors and eventually prevent them altogether.

woman agrivated and can't sleep


This rare sleep disorder typically occurs in children and those who are tired, ill, stressed, taking a new medicine, having too much caffeine, not getting enough sleep, and sleeping in a new environment. Sleep terrors are typically rare and occur in only three to six percent of kids. Night terrors usually occur between the ages of 4 and 12. However, it has been reported in babies as young as 18 months. Furthermore, this rare sleep disorder is more common among boys than girls. About 80% of children have inherited this disorder.

REM Sleep Behavior Disorder (RBD)

Rare sleep disorders like REM sleep behavior disorder occur when you act out your dreams as you enter into REM sleep. Episodes have been known to get worse over time.

Symptoms and Causes of REM Sleep Behavior Disorder (RBD)

If you tend to shout, talk, scream, curse, sleepwalk, punch or kick, lash out, and recall the details of your dream, you are suffering from REM sleep behavior disorder (RBD).

The exact cause of this rare sleep disorder is unknown. However, certain adverse drug reactions may be the cause of RBD. People with alcoholism who suddenly stop consuming may experience RBD. This may be due to alcohol withdrawal symptoms like tremors, seizures, racing pulse, etc., that affect your ability to sleep, leading to RBD.

Diagnosis and Treatment for REM Sleep Behavior Disorder (RBD)

If you are experiencing any symptoms, a doctor will examine you and may have you participate in a sleep study to test for RBD. The medical team will monitor your sleep and breathing activity, brain action, and muscle movement.

If you are experiencing REM sleep behavior disorder (RBD), you should see a specialist since you can injure yourself or your partner. Medication is available to treat RBD.


REM sleep behavior disorder (RBD) can occur at any age but typically occurs at 50 years of age. Men are mostly affected by this rare sleep disorder. About 38% of people with RBD may develop Parkinson’s disease or Lewy body dementia. Studies suggest that antidepressant medications may trigger this rare sleep disorder by up to six percent of users. Evidence has also concluded that RBD and post-traumatic stress disorder may be linked.

man awake in the middle of the night

Exploding Head Syndrome

Exploding head syndrome is a rare sleep disorder in which a person usually hears a loud sound such as a gunshot, an explosion, or a bomb right before falling asleep or waking up. This rare sleep disorder may be frightening, but no pain is associated with the sounds.

Although there is not enough research into why this rare sleep disorder occurs, some scientists theorize that the brain’s neural transmitters shorten during sleep.

Symptoms and Causes of Exploding Head Syndrome

You may have exploding head syndrome if events suddenly wake you up with a sense of fright, are free of any pain, and you wake up to a sudden loud noise or explosion in your head.

The cause of this rare sleep disorder may be associated with minor temporal lobe seizures. Another theory is that sudden shifts of the middle ear components may cause EHS. However, exploding head syndrome may occur more often when tired or under stress.

Diagnosis and Treatment for Exploding Head Syndrome

If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, you may be suffering from exploding head syndrome and should see a sleep doctor. How often and long they last will determine if you have this rare sleep disorder. A diary is also very helpful for writing down everything for two weeks. You may have to undergo tests, and you may have to do a sleep study if your symptoms are severe.

If you suffer from recurring episodes, you should see your doctor. If left untreated, attacks of exploding head disorder will worsen and lead to fear of sleeping and depression. Medications are available for this rare sleep disorder. Counseling may also help relieve this disorder.


This rare sleep disorder is more common in women than men and can begin at any age—even as young as 10-years-old. The average age of occurrence is typically 58.

woman awake in the middle of the night

Shift Work Sleep Disorder

People who work night shifts or rotating shifts may have difficulty falling asleep. They may have a hard time staying awake. This rare sleep disorder is associated with the circadian rhythm. The body can’t decide when to sleep or when to be awake.

For nurses, firefighters, and police officers, rotating during shifts can take a toll on their standard sleep patterns. Sleep deprivation can take a toll on your ability to focus, affecting your work performance. Lack of sleep can also affect your mood and cause you to be agitated and depressed. You may also be at an increased risk of heart disease, ulcers, and insulin resistance.

Symptoms and Causes of Shift Work Sleep Disorder

Shift work sleep disorder may interfere with your family or work. These rare sleep disorder symptoms include difficulty with personal relationships, depression or irritability, difficulty concentrating, excessive daytime sleepiness, lack of energy, and insomnia.

Nightshift workers and rotating workers are at risk for shift work sleep disorder. Your sleep cycle becomes interrupted, and over time will worsen. If left untreated, shift work sleep disorder can lead to mood problems, poor work performance, higher accident risk, low testosterone, substance abuse, and added health problems.

Diagnosis and Treatment for Shift Work Sleep Disorder

Diagnosis for this rare sleep disorder includes reduced sleep time accompanied by insomnia and daytime sleepiness. If symptoms have lasted for more than three months, you most likely suffer from shift work sleep disorder.

Shift workers should expose themselves to bright light during the day when they are awake. The bright light will trick the brain into thinking it’s daylight. Sticking to a sleep schedule will help your circadian rhythm stay in sync. Blackout curtains or blinds will help block out the sunlight and help you sleep better. Keeping the room dark and quiet is key to helping you get a good restful sleep.

You should limit your caffeine and alcohol intake toward the end of your shift and avoid working several night shifts in a row because time off night shifts will help your body rest. You should also avoid rotating shifts frequently.

man awake and tired in the morning


The prevalence of SWSD is estimated to affect 2 to 10% of the general population. This rare sleep disorder affects 27% of rotating and nightshift workers. Shift work sleep disorder can occur at any age but typically occurs at 50. Women are also more likely to be affected by this rare disorder.

Insufficient Sleep Syndrome

Insufficient sleep syndrome, also known as sleep restriction, sleep deprivation, and inadequate sleep, is a rare sleep disorder in which a person fails to make adequate time for sufficient sleep. People often regulate the amount of sleep they get. They may set the alarm at a particular time and go to bed at a specific time. However, people need seven to eight hours of sleep each night to function properly. Going to bed too late can interrupt the amount of sleep you need. Over time, your focus and work will be affected by not getting enough shut-eye.

People are sleeping 25% less than our ancestors did a century ago. There is no indication that they require more sleep or that we require less sleep. The simple fact is that life is much busier than it used to be. People are more active now than ever between child-rearing, work, activities, home-communities, sports, social gatherings, and school. Since there is not enough time to finish everything one needs to finish, they sacrifice their sleep. While sacrificing a few hours of sleep may not be too much of a concern, it can quickly descend into a debilitating sleep disorder.

Symptoms and Causes of Insufficient Sleep Syndrome

Symptoms for insufficient sleep syndrome may include muscle pain, irritability, muscle weakness, being easily distracted, a general lack of energy, reduced alertness, falling asleep during sedentary activities, and excessive daytime sleepiness. Moreover, if you sleep less than your body needs for your age and at a period of 3 months or longer, you may be suffering from this rare sleep disorder.

The cause of insufficient sleep syndrome is any voluntary behavior a person does that affects a person’s ability to get adequate sleep. Working long hours and people that work nightshifts are most affected. A fast-paced life may also be the cause.

Diagnosis and Treatment for Insufficient Sleep Syndrome

Approximately 2% of people are diagnosed with insufficient sleep. You should get a sleep study performed to rule out any other sleep disorders causing your daytime sleepiness so that your specialist can effectively diagnose and treat insufficient sleep syndrome. A sleep study is a non-invasive, overnight exam that allows doctors to monitor you while you sleep to find out what is happening to your body and brain. Your physician may ask you to keep a sleep diary to record how much and how long you sleep and how rested you feel.

If your symptoms are severe enough, you may be asked to undergo a sleep study. Your physiological behaviors will be monitored and recorded.

Once other sleep disorders are ruled out, you need to make a more conscious effort to get more sleep. Other sleep treatments include practicing sleep hygiene. Sleep hygiene is a set of habits and practices that help you achieve more sleep. These may consist of sleeping in a quiet environment, eating foods that promote sleep, and avoiding drinks and foods that disrupt your sleep.


Insufficient sleep syndrome typically affects young to middle-aged adults between 25 to 35 years of age. This rare sleep disorder slightly occurs more in women than in men. Insufficient sleep syndrome is more prevalent in night shift workers and those working more than 40 hours per week.

Almost half of all Americans report feeling sleepy during the day and between three to seven days per week. On average, 35.2% of adults in the US have reported sleeping less than seven hours per night. At 43%, Hawaii has the highest percentage of adults getting less than seven hours per night. South Dakota is at 26% and is seemingly the lowest percentage. Boulder, Colorado, has the lowest percentage at 24.2%. Detroit, New Jersey, and Camden tie up to the highest percent at 49.8% of people sleeping less than seven hours.

Researchers from the National Health Interview survey concluded that African American adults are almost twice as likely to suffer from insufficient sleep syndrome. Native Hawaiians are reported at 46.3% sleeping less than seven hours.

Nocturnal Sleep-Related Eating Disorder (NS-RED)

Nocturnal sleep-related eating disorder (NS-RED) is a rare sleep disorder characterized by eating while asleep. These people frequently awaken in the middle of the night and need food to go back to sleep. Most people have no recollection of the episode and may gain weight and develop diabetes.

man struggling to sleep

Symptoms and Causes of Nocturnal Sleep-Related Eating Disorder (NS-RED)

Symptoms of this rare sleep disorder include little or no appetite at breakfast and recurrent awakenings from sleep requiring eating to go back to sleep. Furthermore, eating more during dinner and eating more than half of their daily food intake after dinner are symptoms of this disorder.

The exact cause of why this rare sleep disorder occurs is unknown. However, sleep-related eating disorders often occur in people with a history of sleepwalking.

Diagnosis and Treatment for Nocturnal Sleep-Related Eating Disorder (NS-RED)

A nocturnal sleep-related eating disorder (NS-RED) diagnosis may include an interview with a specialist and an overnight stay in a sleep lab.

Medication may be helpful if you are diagnosed with a nocturnal sleep-related eating disorder (NS-RED). However, you should avoid sleeping pills since you may be more at risk of getting injured. Other treatments may include methods to release anxiety and stress. Stress management classes, limiting your alcohol and caffeine intake, and counseling and assertiveness training are other possible treatments.


Both men and women are vulnerable to sleep-related eating disorders, but women are mostly affected. The age of onset is typically 20 to 40 years of age. Close to five percent of people suffer from NS-RED. This rare sleep disorder is increased by 17% in those with eating disorders. Some people may have other sleep disorders, drug abuse, and alcoholism.

Sudden Unexpected Nocturnal Death Syndrome (SUNDS)

Sudden unexpected nocturnal death syndrome (SUNDS) is a rare genetic sleep disorder that primarily affects Southeast Asian males causing sudden death in their sleep.

Symptoms and Causes of Sudden Unexpected Nocturnal Death Syndrome (SUNDS)

The symptoms of this rare sleep disorder are abrupt breathing disorders in sleep such as strange gasping or groans, tachypnea, abnormal snores, and screams.

Scientists have concluded that SUNDS may be caused by the body’s inability to coordinate the electrical signals that keep blood flowing and the heart beating.

man awake in the middle of the night

Diagnosis and Treatment for Sudden Unexpected Nocturnal Death Syndrome (SUNDS)

The diagnosis for this rare sleep disorder occurs post-mortem, so no tests can determine whether SUNDS will occur.

The only way to prevent SUNDS is with an implantable cardiovascular defibrillator. ICD implantation may be considered for patients who have been resuscitated from sudden cardiac arrest or have experienced life-threatening ventricular arrhythmias and for patients with moderate to severe structural heart disease, including hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, nonischemic, and ischemic, and those with cardiac disorders, genetic or otherwise.


Most Asian men are at risk for sudden unexpected nocturnal death syndrome. Southeast Asian immigrants fleeing the Vietnam War most often were afflicted by this rare sleep disorder. Southeast Asia contains the most people with this fatal syndrome. Filipinos and Chinese immigrants in the Philippines, Japanese in Japan, and natives of Guam in the United States are also afflicted with SUNDS. Most immigrants afflicted with this rare sleep disorder were about 33 years old and seemingly healthy. Sudden unexpected nocturnal death syndrome (SUNDS) typically affects young Hmong men from Laos and northeastern Thailand, where the population is mainly of Laotian descent.


People with this rare sleep disorder engage in sexual behaviors while asleep. These may include intercourse, masturbation, fondling your bed partner, sexual assault, or sexual vocalizations.

Symptoms and Causes of Sexsomnia

Common behaviors and signs of sexsomnia include talking dirty, masturbating, sexually fondling your bed partner, having an orgasm, engaging in sexual intercourse, participating in foreplay, pelvic thrusting, moaning, having glassy eyes during this behavior, and sleep-related violence (SRV).

Scientists are unsure of what triggers this rare sleep disorder. However, sleeping pills, having a history of parasomnia (sleepwalking), depression, stress, sleep-related epilepsy, fatigue, and a history of certain medical conditions may be causing sexsomnia. Other sleep disorders like sleep apnea may also cause this rare sleep disorder. Poor sleeping conditions and traveling may also cause this rare sleep disorder.

woman yawning

Diagnosis and Treatment for Sexsomnia

To diagnose sexsomnia, a person must complete a sleep study overnight at a sleep center. In some cases, your physician may request a multiple-night sleep study. A doctor will perform an EEG or an electroencephalogram during a sleep study to rule out seizures. A polysomnogram (PSG) with an extended EEG can rule out epileptic disorders and monitor spontaneous arousals.

Descriptions from your partner may also be used to diagnose sexsomnia.

If you have been diagnosed with sexsomnia, doctors may prescribe drugs to relax you. Treatments depend on the underlying cause and include treating sleep apnea, seeing a psychologist, and taking antidepressants. Controlling substance use or abuse, having special alarms, and improving sleep hygiene may help.


Episodes of this rare sleep disorder can last for around 30 seconds to several minutes and are more prevalent in men than women. Sexsomnia typically occurs when a person moves from one sleep stage to another. Sexsomnia is reported among eight percent of people. The first known case of sexsomnia was reported in 1986, and only 94 cases have been documented.

Fatal Familial Insomnia

Fatal familial insomnia is a genetic neurological sleep disorder that affects the sleep and wake cycles of the brain. People may experience bouts of insomnia associated with weight loss, paranoia, and confusion.

Symptoms and Causes of Fatal Familial Insomnia

Insomnia may be the first symptom but becomes progressively worse until the affected individual cannot sleep. Symptoms may also include cognition, memory, language, and behavior problems. Unintended weight loss, inattentiveness, and forgetfulness may also occur. Episodes of hallucinations and confusion can also occur. Common symptoms can include fever, high blood pressure, rapid heart rate, increased sweating, variations in body temperature, and increased production of tears. Anxiety and depression are also common symptoms.

An infectious protein causes this rare sleep disorder. FFI causes extreme worsening insomnia, leading to an incomplete inability to sleep. Health deteriorates rapidly, with death occurring after seven to 36 months.

man awake in the middle of the night

Diagnosis and Treatment for Fatal Familial Insomnia

A diagnosis of FFI is based upon the symptoms an individual may be experiencing. A detailed medical history, a clinical evaluation, and various specialized tests may be conducted.

There is no cure for FFI. However, treatment is directed toward the management of your specific symptoms. Psychiatrists, neurologists, psychologists, social workers, pain specialists, and other healthcare professionals may need to comprehensively and systematically plan a treatment.

Symptomatic treatments include anti-seizure medications that may help treat this rare sleep disorder.


This rare sleep disorder impacts those around 50 years old, but teenagers have also been diagnosed with fatal familial insomnia. Death occurs, and the average lifespan is 18 months after the first signs of the symptoms. This sleep disorder is extremely rare, with the genetic mutation found only in 40 families worldwide. FFI is usually misdiagnosed or undiagnosed, so it is difficult to determine the actual frequency of this rare sleep disorder. Fatal familial insomnia affects both men and women. The age of onset is 45 to 50 years old, although this rare sleep disorder has also occurred in teenagers and 70-year-old adults.

Kleine-Levin Syndrome

Kleine-Levin syndrome, also known as “sleeping beauty syndrome,” is a rare sleep disorder where a person sleeps for 20 hours.

Symptoms and Causes of Kleine-Levin Syndrome

While awake, an individual may experience confusion, hallucinations, lethargy, apathy, disorientation, and irritability. Symptoms typically occur between 2 to 12 times per year. People usually have no recollection of their experience, and symptoms reappear with no warning. Sleeping 12 to 24 hours is a common symptom of this rare sleep disorder.

The pathology suggests a malfunction in the thalamus and hypothalamus. Moreover, an infection may also act as a trigger for developing Kleine-Levin syndrome. Autoimmune diseases may also cause this rare sleep disorder.

Diagnosis and Treatment for Kleine- Levin Syndrome

A doctor will rule out other conditions that share the same symptoms. People will undergo various tests, and your doctor will perform an MRI to rule out lesions, tumors, or inflammation.

There is no known treatment. However, episodes tend to decrease in frequency and severity over 12 years. Doctors may prescribe medication to alleviate the symptoms. Stimulants such as methylphenidate and modafinil can counter the effects of this rare sleep disorder, but they don’t lessen the associated cognitive disturbances. Mood-altering drugs may also alleviate KLS.


Episodes of Kleine-Levin syndrome last from a few days to several months. This rare sleep disorder most often affects teenage boys. The exact prevalence is unknown but is estimated to be around 1 million. Among those affected are 70% of males. Episodes typically decrease with age but have been reported in 40 to 50-year-olds.

woman struggling to sleep


Bruxism is also known as teeth grinding or clenching your teeth as you sleep. Since you are asleep, you cannot control the habit, which can lead to soreness in the jaw and teeth.

Symptoms and Causes of Bruxism

Stress may cause this rare sleep disorder. Teeth grinding or clenching, fractured teeth, worn tooth enamel, increased tooth pain, tight jaw muscles, and sleep disruption are symptoms of bruxism. Pain that feels like an earache and headaches may also signify bruxism.

Parkinson’s disease, depression, significant anxiety, certain antidepressants, cocaine, or ecstasy may be associated with bruxism. Arousals during sleep may also be the cause of bruxism.

Diagnosis and Treatment for Bruxism

Dentists will discover the damage done to the teeth enamel caused by bruxism.

To prevent further damage to the teeth, your dentist will recommend night guards.


This rare sleep disorder affects 8 to 10% of the population. Bruxism occurs in children and adults but most commonly affects 25 to 44-year-olds. Nearly 80% of bruxism episodes occur in clusters and are associated with arousals during sleep. Bruxism also typically occurs in families.

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