Are there medical conditions that may disrupt sleep patterns?

Medical conditions, including pregnancy, some intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDDs), depression, Alzheimer’s disease, and cancer, may disrupt natural or healthy sleep patterns.

  • Pregnancy. Many women who become pregnant find that they develop sleeping problems during pregnancy that they did not have before they got pregnant. Fatigue is common during pregnancy, especially during the first and third trimesters.1,2 Pregnant women may develop problems such as insomnia, restless legs syndrome, sleep apnea, nighttime heartburn―which can cause long-term damage to the esophagus―and frequent nighttime urination. All of these problems can affect the quality of sleep as well as sleep duration. Visit the March of Dimes website for suggestions on improving sleep during pregnancy: .
  • IDDs. IDDs, particularly among children, are associated with sleeping problems. For example, children with autism spectrum disorders or attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder often have sleep problems.3,4 The specific treatment or intervention depends on the IDD, the child’s age, and other factors.
  • Other conditions. Sleeping problems are common in people with intellectual disabilities or mental health problems, such as depression or schizophrenia.5 Sleeping difficulties are also common in many other disorders and illnesses, including Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, cancer, and head injury.6 Some researchers believe that many of these sleep problems happen because of changes in the brain areas that control sleep and waking. Medicines used to control the symptoms of certain conditions (cancer, for example) can also cause sleep problems.6


  1. Lee, K. A., & Zaffke, M. E. (1999). Longitudinal changes in fatigue and energy during pregnancy and the postpartum period. Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, and Neonatal Nursing, 28(2), 183–191.
  2. National Sleep Foundation. (n.d.). Pregnancy and sleep. Retrieved June 12, 2017, from 
  3. Devnani, P. A., & Hegde, A. U. (2015). Autism and sleep disorders. Journal of Pediatric Neurosciences, 10(4), 304–307. Retrieved June 19, 2017, from
  4. Hvolby, A. (2015). Associations of sleep disturbance with ADHD: Implications for treatment. Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorders, 7(1), 1–18. Retrieved June 27, 2017, from
  5. Harvard Medical School. (2009). Sleep and mental health. Retrieved June 12, 2017, from 
  6. Colten, H. R., & Altevogt, B. M. (Eds.). (2006). Extent and health consequences of chronic sleep loss and sleep disorders. In H. R. Colten & B. M. Altevogt (Eds.), Sleep disorders and sleep deprivation: An unmet public health problem (pp. 55–135). Washington, DC: National Academies Press. Retrieved June 20, 2017, from
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