Is It Insomnia? (Diagnosis and the Sleep Specialist)




If you’re having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, you may have insomnia. But how can you know for certain that a sleep disorder—or this particular sleep disorder—is to blame for your lack of sleep?

It’s possible that your inability to sleep could be traced to some other cause. For example, maybe your sleep hygiene isn’t up to par. Perhaps your bedroom isn’t the quiet, cool, dark, clean refuge it needs to be to promote great sleep. Maybe you have too much caffeine in your system or are struggling to sleep after eating a big, heavy, sugary meal. 

Sometimes, improving your sleep is simply a matter of isolating and correcting a behavioral or environmental factor. 

On the other hand, maybe you do have a sleep disorder—but not the one you think. It’s possible that you don’t have insomnia, but you could have any number of other diagnosable sleep disorders or issues, such as sleep apnea, a parasomnia (like sleepwalking or restless leg syndrome), narcolepsy, or a circadian rhythm disorder

It’s also possible that your insomnia is secondary—caused by some other health issue that needs addressing, such as diabetes or depression.

How do you find out? How do you know if you have insomnia, and furthermore, primary insomnia—the kind that may most benefit from a visit to a sleep center or sleep specialist? 

First, take a look at the insomnia symptoms and patterns you’re experiencing. Knowing your symptoms and the conditions under which your insomnia occurs will help your sleep specialist with a diagnosis and treatment plan.


Types of Insomnia


Onset Insomnia vs. Maintenance Insomnia

Are you an insomniac who can’t fall asleep, or the type who can’t stay asleep? Most insomniacs fall into one camp or the other, but some experience both.




Acute Insomnia vs. Chronic Insomnia



Primary Insomnia vs. Secondary (or Comorbid) Insomnia


You probably have some sense, based on your sleep history, of where your insomnia falls on the above spectrums. However, you may need to see a sleep physician to determine whether your insomnia is primary or secondary.



But how can you know for certain that you actually have insomnia, as opposed to some other type of sleep disturbance? And how can you tell if you have primary insomnia or secondary insomnia?

See a sleep doctor. Your primary care physician may recommend that you consult a board-certified sleep specialist if:



If your regular physician has reason to believe you may have primary insomnia, he or she may recommend a visit to a sleep specialist.


Getting Your Insomnia Diagnosed by a Sleep Specialist


How does a board-certified sleep physician diagnose insomnia? Most sleep specialists will begin by talking to you about your sleep history and health history. During an initial visit and exam, your sleep physician may ask you about:



The specialist may ask you to answer additional questions to determine how sleepy you are during the day (the test for this is called the Epworth Sleepiness Scale). He or she may also ask you to take a mental health inventory, to double-check that you aren’t showing signs of conditions like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or stress.

Next, you’ll likely be asked to keep a sleep diary for two weeks. This helps the sleep physician get a sense of your sleep: your bedtime, how long it takes you to fall asleep, when you’re waking up, and whether you have any nighttime awakenings.

Finally, the sleep physician may ask you to wear a device on your wrist to measure your sleep movement (a test called actigraphy). You may also be asked to undergo a polysomnogram, or overnight sleep study. These tests fill in details about your sleep motion, heart rate, and brain waves.

Any or all of these techniques may be used by your sleep specialist to get a clearer picture of your sleep problems and what might be causing your insomnia.


Armed with this data, your sleep physician will work with you to create an insomnia treatment plan that may include some combination of sleep hygiene suggestions, relaxation techniques, cognitive behavioral therapy, lifestyle changes, and medication.

If you or a loved one is suffering from insomnia or would like to learn more about your treatment options, just give Sound Sleep Health a call today at (425) 279-7151.

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