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Insomnia (Sleepless Nights)

How Is Insomnia Diagnosed?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012 - 10:17

Contributing Author: Guy Slowik FRCS

Insomnia is almost always the result of some other problem and is not an 'illness' in its own right. Discovering its cause is the most important step in relieving it. Your doctor will ask questions such as:

  • How would you describe your sleep problem (for example, do you have trouble falling asleep, or is the problem waking up too early)?
  • How long have you been experiencing the problem?
  • Does it occur every night?
  • Does it affect your daytime functioning?
  • Do you snore?
  • Do you have any medical conditions?
  • Are you taking any medication?

Nice To Know:

Keeping a sleep diary can help your doctor make a diagnosis. You should record all sleep-related information such as how long it took you to fall asleep, how restful the sleep was, what you ate or drank before bed, how often you woke during the night, etc. Your bed partner can also help by adding observations about whether you snored, moved in your sleep, etc.

Most of the time, a physician can make a diagnosis of insomnia from the information provided by the person. But if unexplained insomnia persists, or if there is evidence that the sleep disorder is caused by a breathing problem, a doctor may suggest a sleep study at a sleep lab to identify the root of the problem.

Getting Help At A Sleep Lab

There are many excellent sleep labs throughout the U.S. that are designed to diagnose sleep disorders through a sleep study. Most require spending one or more nights in the lab. The American Sleep Disorders Association has a list of the accredited sleep labs in the United States.

Most sleep labs require a referral from your doctor. However, you may want to call and find out if you can have an evaluation done independently. Once you have made an appointment, you will receive complete instructions as to what tests will be done and what is required of you.

How-To Information:

How is a sleep study done?

A sleep study is conducted overnight. The individual arrives in the early evening and plans to spend the night in a bed in the sleep lab. Although a sleep study may look high-tech, it is pain-free and individuals are usually quite comfortable.

Electrodes will be attached with soft tape to various parts of the body, including the head, chest and legs. A belt may be placed around the abdomen and chest. These devices are linked to computerized equipment that record the body's sleep patterns through the night.

Recordings are made of brain wave activity, respiration (breathing), heart rhythm, eye movements, chest movements, arm and leg movements, and pulse oximetry, which measures the level of oxygen in the blood. In the morning, there is a wealth of data that can be analyzed.

Nice To Know:

Q: Will my insurance pay for a sleep study?

A: Most authorized sleep studies are considered medical procedures and are covered by most insurance companies, including Medicare. Check with your insurance provider to determine if your policy covers a sleep study.

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