Topic Overview

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How is insomnia diagnosed?

Insomnia is not a disease, and no test can diagnose it. But when you can't sleep well, it often has to do with some other cause. Your doctor will probably assess your current health and ask about any health problems you have had and any medicines you are taking.

Sometimes a doctor will do a physical exam, blood tests, and, in some cases, sleep studies to help find out if you have a health problem that may be causing the insomnia.

Your doctor may also ask about your sleep history-how well you sleep, how long you sleep, your bedtime habits, and any unusual behaviors you may have. Your doctor may ask you to keep a sleep journal, which is a record of your sleep patterns, for a week or two. He or she may recommend a counselor if your symptoms point to a mental health problem, such as depression or anxiety.

How is it treated?

Treatment for insomnia focuses on the reason why you don't sleep well. If you have a medical problem, such as chronic pain, or an emotional problem, such as stress, treating that problem may help you sleep better. You may be able to sleep better by making some small changes. It may help to:

  • Go to bed at the same time each night.
  • Get up at the same time each day.
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol for several hours before bedtime.
  • Get regular exercise (but make sure you finish the exercise at least 3 to 4 hours before you go to bed).
  • Avoid daytime naps.

Some people may need medicine for a while to help them fall asleep. Doctors often prescribe medicine for a short time if other treatment isn't working. But medicine doesn't work as well over time as lifestyle and behavior changes do. Sleep medicine can also become habit-forming. Medicine works best as a short-term treatment combined with lifestyle and behavior changes.

Your doctor may also recommend counseling, which can help you learn new habits that may help you sleep better.

Talk to your doctor about your sleep problems and any other health issues you may have. This is important, because lack of sleep can lead to depression, accidents, problems at work, marital and social problems, drinking more alcohol than usual, and poor health. Treatment may help you avoid these problems and feel better.

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