NEW ORLEANS – If you have ever struggled with sleep for years, the issue could be more serious than you think.

According to the American Sleep Association, 1 in 3 Americans have sleep disorders, and they might not even know it.

Sleep doctors say the most common sleep disorder is sleep apnea, which causes people to repeatedly stop breathing while they are sleeping. This disorder can be dangerous if left untreated.

If a doctor believes you suffer from sleep apnea, they will recommend that you use a CPAP machine while sleeping. The CPAP, which stands for continuous positive airway pressure, gently blows pressurized air through your airway to keep your throat from collapsing.

Doctors say 90 percent of patients that suffer from sleep apnea develop the disorder when they gain a lot of weight. The remaining 10 percent of patients have the disorder through genetics.

Another sleep condition is narcolepsy. People that suffer from this disorder are always extremely sleepy during the day, and they can not naturally control it. There are fewer than 200,000 cases per year of narcolepsy in the United States. There are a number of medications that patients can use to treat the disorder.

If you often wake up physically fighting out of your dreams, it is possible that you could have REM behavior disorder.

Doctors say patients may dream that they are punching or kicking while dreaming, which can cause them to fall out of bed or hurt their bed partner. Generally, patients have violent dreams in which they are being attacked or chased. It is not unusual for a bed partner to get a black eye or patients fracture arms and legs when falling out of bed or flailing around. Doctors can prescribe medication to treat REM behavior disorders.

The bottom line is: if you think you may be suffering from one of these conditions, contact your doctor and get checked out.

WWL-TV reporter Meghan Kee can be reached at mkee@wwltv.com; Follow her on Twitter at @MeghanKeeWWL