How is Insomnia Diagnosed?
To diagnose insomnia, your doctor will ask about your sleep patterns and habits, stress levels, medical history, level of physical activity, and use of medications, alcohol, caffeine, tobacco, and illegal substances. He or she might also ask you to keep a detailed log of your sleep habits, including sleep and wake times, napping, and any specific problems with sleeping.
Your doctor will also do a physical exam to look for health disorders that can cause insomnia.
If your insomnia persists even after treatment, your doctor may refer you to a sleep disorders specialist for an evaluation. If the specialist suspects a disorder, such as sleep apnea or restless legs syndrome, you may need to do an overnight sleep study at home or at a special sleep center.
How is Insomnia Treated?
If you have short-term insomnia, you may not need treatment. Often, good sleep habits and self-care can cure a mild case.
If you have trouble functioning during the day because of poor sleep, your doctor may prescribe sleeping pills for a few weeks. Commonly used sleep aids include sedatives, minor tranquilizers, and anti-anxiety drugs. Most are safe if a doctor supervises their use. Some sleep aids can become habit-forming or pose the potential for overdose if not used as directed. Some newer sleep aids can be taken for longer periods without losing effectiveness.
If you use an over-the-counter sleep aid, take it exactly as directed. An OTC product may help with an occasional sleepless night, but it is inappropriate for chronic insomnia. Chronic insomnia could be a sign of a serious, underlying disorder, so see your doctor. If you decide to try an OTC sleep aid, keep in mind that these products often contain antihistamines, which can cause nervousness, agitation, falls, confusion, urinary difficulties, and daytime sleepiness, especially in older people.
If you have chronic insomnia, getting treatment for any underlying health condition or other problem may help you to sleep better. If you still have insomnia, your doctor may suggest behavioral therapy, which is frequently used when insomnia stems from the mind or body being unable to relax. Behavioral therapy teaches a person how to alter behaviors that worsen insomnia and learn new ways to promote sleep.