Are there diseases or conditions that disrupt sleep patterns?

People experiencing certain conditions, such as pregnancy, some intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDDs), depression, Alzheimer's disease, and cancer, may have disrupted sleep patterns.

  • Pregnancy. Many women who become pregnant find that they develop sleeping problems during pregnancy that they did not have previously. Fatigue is common during pregnancy, for example, especially during the first and third trimesters.1, 2 Many types of sleep disturbances develop in women who are pregnant, including insomnia, restless legs syndrome, sleep apnea, nocturnal heartburn―which can cause long-term damage to the esophagus―and frequent nighttime urination. Sleep problems during pregnancy are difficult to treat because of possible damage to the developing fetus. As a result, many women must cope with sleeping problems and disrupted sleep throughout their pregnancy.2, 3 Visit the March of Dimes website for suggestions on natural approaches for improving sleep during pregnancy: External Web Site Policy.
  • IDDs. Particularly in children, IDDs are associated with sleeping problems. For example, children with autism spectrum disorders4, 5 often have sleep disturbances. In addition, children with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder also have sleep disturbances.6
  • Other conditions. Sleeping problems occur in nearly everyone who has an intellectual disability or mental illness, including people with depression or schizophrenia. Sleeping difficulties are also commonly seen in many other disorders and illnesses, including Alzheimer's disease, stroke, cancer, and head injury.7 Some researchers believe that many of these sleep problems occur because of changes in the brain regions and brain chemicals that control sleep. Another possible cause is medications used to control the symptoms of other conditions (cancer, for example).7

  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 May 20, 2012, from External Web Site Policy
  3. Pien, G. W., & Schwab, R. J. (2004). Sleep disorders during pregnancy. Sleep, 27, 1405-1417.
  4. Gail Williams, P., Sears, L. L., & Allard, A. (2004). Sleep problems in children with autism. Journal of Sleep Research, 13, 265-268.
  5. Allik, H., Larsson, J., & Smedje, H. (2006). Insomnia in school-age children with Asperger syndrome or high-functioning autism. BMC Psychiatry, 6, 18-28.
  6. Armstrong, K. H., Kohler, W. C., & Lilly, C. M. (2009). The young and the restless: A pediatrician's guide to managing sleep. Contemporary Pediatrics. Retrieved May 29, 2012, from External Web Site Policy
  7. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. (2007). Sleep and disease In Brain basics: Understanding sleep. Retrieved May 29, 2012, from

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