Somewhere between nodding off at work and falling into bed for an afternoon nap, you may notice that you haven’t had a full eight hours of sleep for several weeks. There’s a chance you’re suffering from insomnia, a sleep disorder that is characterized by having trouble getting to sleep, staying asleep, or a combination of the two. Nearly 40% of the U.S. population occasionally suffers from this sleep disorder, while another 15% suffer from chronic insomnia that lasts a month or more. The first step to regaining restful sleep is determining whether you have insomnia.
If you recognize one or more of the following symptoms of insomnia, it’s a good idea to see your doctor or a sleep specialist.
- Difficulty falling asleep
- Waking up one or more times during the night
- Feeling tired upon awakening
- Irritability during the day
- Difficulty focusing or concentrating
- Slow reaction time either physically or mentally
Medical professionals use a number of tools to accurately determine an insomnia diagnosis. A physical exam is the first test given to determine if your insomnia is a symptom of a chronic illness or disease such as diabetes, lupus, arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, or HIV/AIDS. Sleep abnormalities such as sleep apnea will be addressed in the physical exam.
You may undergo a psychological exam to rule out the possibility that your insomnia is a result of a psychiatric disorder such as schizophrenia or depression. If you are suffering from the loss of a loved one or as a caretaker, the psychological exam will determine if grief or stress is contributing to your sleeplessness.
There are a number of diagnostic tools that relate directly to your sleep patterns. You may be asked to keep a sleep diary for two or more weeks to document your regular sleep patterns. The Epworth Sleepiness Scale is a short questionnaire you may fill out to evaluate your daytime sleepiness. This scale will help your doctor know how much actual sleep you’re getting during the night. A polysomnogram is a test that records your body functions such as brain waves, activity, and eye movements that indicate levels of sleep. Similarly, an actigraph is a wrist device worn to measure motor activity during the day and night.
As you can see, medical professionals who specialize in sleep may use several different ways to determine if you have insomnia. If it is determined that you suffer from this sleep disorder, you will be prescribed appropriate treatment options, which may include lifestyle changes or medications that will allow you to get the rest you need.