A sleep disorder such as insomnia can seriously disrupt your life. The longer you go without proper amounts of sleep, the more that excessive sleepiness during the day can erode your ability to live life to its fullest. It is important to find help if you have been experiencing symptoms of sleep difficulty. The first step is to visit your healthcare provider who can diagnose a sleep disorder and discover its cause for appropriate treatment.

Sleep disorder can manifest in many different ways, and it can be caused by a variety of factors. Diagnosing the type and causes of your sleep disorder can be complicated, however, by the subjectivity of diagnostic tools. Two people might be exhibiting the same sleep patterns and reporting the same level of sleepiness during the day, but one might label him or herself as having sleep difficulty while the other might not.

Everyone has different sleep needs, so whether or not you’re experiencing sleep difficulty that can be diagnosed as insomnia or not depends largely on how you feel in relation to your sleep patterns. If you feel you’re not getting enough rest to function normally, your doctor can use ratings scales, interview techniques, and, in some cases, medical testing to determine what type of sleep difficulty you’re experiencing and the specific causes of your problem.

When you seek treatment for sleep difficulty from your doctor, they will first perform interviews with you to get an idea of the nature of your sleep difficulty and lifestyle behaviors that are a possible culprit. Your doctor may ask the following questions to diagnose a sleep disorder:

  • How would you describe your sleeping habits?
  • How long have you been experiencing your sleep difficulty?
  • How long does it take you to fall asleep?
  • How many nights a week do you experience difficulty sleeping?
  • How restful would you say your sleep is when you do sleep?
  • Do you have more trouble falling asleep, or do you wake too early?
  • What is your sleeping environment like?
  • What medications, if any, are you taking?
  • Are you experiencing any stresses or emotional disturbances?
  • Have you been through any significant life changes recently?
  • Do you exercise regularly?
  • Are you withdrawing from any substances such as nicotine, caffeine, drugs or alcohol?

These are just a few of the questions that your practitioner might ask. Your doctor will want to get a full picture of your lifestyle, daily activities, and any significant recent events to determine the possible sources of the problem. If you are unable to answer these questions, you can keep a sleep diary.

Essentially, you keep a journal (for at least 2 weeks) in which you answer all questions related to sleep difficulty on a daily basis so that you are better be able to get to the root of your specific sleep patterns and lifestyle choices that might be affecting your ability to sleep.

There are ratings scales used by doctors that will also help determine the extent of your sleep difficulty. The Epworth Sleep Scale is a ratings scale that uses subjective reporting to show whether or not you’re getting adequate rest. On a scale of 0-3, you rate how likely you are to doze off in sedentary situations such as reading, watching TV, riding in the passenger’s seat of a car, and driving a car that is stopped at a stop light. Tools such as the Epworth Sleep Scale will show the doctor how severe your sleep difficulty is and how aggressively to treat the problem.

Some sleep difficulties are caused by emotional disturbances or medical conditions, so your doctor may want to test for these factors. If you show signs of depression, anxiety, or chronic medical problems such as arthritis, acid reflux, or sleep apnea, your doctor will want to treat these problems directly. Medical and/or psychological testing may be necessary in some cases.

Once the doctor has a general understanding of the nature of your sleep difficulty, they can determine how to treat the problem. In some cases, lifestyle habits simply need to be improved. In other cases, short-term treatment with prescription sleep aids may be necessary. Diagnosing the problem is the first important step to getting the quality of sleep you need. If you’re experiencing signs of sleep difficulty, speak with your healthcare provider to find out more about the help available to you.

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