Insomnia Testing

Insomnia testing may include one or more of these: a medical history and exam, sleep diary, blood tests, and a sleep study done in a sleep center.

Because there are many different causes of insomnia, testing is necessary to determine the cause of your sleeping difficulties. Doctors may use several different methods to do this, including:

• Medical and behavioral history
• Sleep diary
• Physical examination
• Blood tests
• A sleep study

Your doctor will ask you many questions about your general medical history, as well as your sleep habits. What type of environment you sleep in, your bedtime routine (if any), exposure to screens before bed, and other factors can influence your sleep patterns, so your doctor will ask about all of these items. Your doctor will also want to know about your mood; depression and anxiety can be caused by, or may be the cause of, insomnia. Additionally, your doctor will ask about all medications (including over-the-counter medications) and supplements that you’re taking, and your use of substances such as caffeine, alcohol, and other drugs.

In order to get a more comprehensive view of your sleeping patterns, you may be asked to keep a sleep diary. In this document, you record information about your sleep every night, including what time you went to bed, what time you woke up, whether you were awake during the night for significant periods of time, what type of environment you slept in, and how you felt the next day. Keeping a sleep diary for two weeks can help both you and your doctor to discover patterns in your sleep. You may be able to make changes to your sleep routine based on what you discover. For some patients with insomnia, these changes will treat the problem and allow them to sleep well.

Your physical examination will also be useful. Your doctor will look for signs of medical problems that can cause insomnia. In some cases, your doctor will do blood tests to check for medical conditions. For instance, your thyroid hormone levels may be checked, since high thyroid function can cause insomnia.

In some cases, you will need a sleep study to more fully investigate your insomnia. For this study, you sleep at a sleep center, which is dedicated to doing these studies. You will be monitored all night at the center. You will wear devices that monitor your brain waves, your breathing and blood oxygenation, your heartbeat, and the movements of your eyes and body, and you will also be recorded on video throughout the night, so that the doctors can see what is happening if your readings are abnormal.

You will go to the sleep center to have the sleep study performed, and you’ll go home the next morning. It will take a few days for the results to be analyzed. Your doctor may call you with your sleep study results, or may want you to have an additional appointment to discuss them.

Tests for sleeping disorders are generally only performed if you have symptoms. There isn’t a standard screening test for insomnia, although your doctor may ask a question about your sleep during your standard yearly physical exam.

References

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “Sleep and Sleep Disorders.” CDC website (2015). http://www.cdc.gov/Sleep/index.html

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). “Brain Basics: Understanding Sleep.” NINDS website (2014). http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/brain_basics/understanding_sleep.htm

Mayo Clinic Staff. “Insomnia: Tests and diagnosis.” Mayo Clinic website (2014). http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/insomnia/basics/tests-diagnosis/con-20024293

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