A sleep disorder is broadly defined as a physical or psychological problem that impairs your ability to sleep or causes increased sleepiness during the day. Everyone can experience sleep problems from time to time. However, you might have a sleep disorder if:
- You regularly experience difficulty sleeping
- You are often tired during the day, even if you slept for at least seven hours the night before
- You have a reduced or impaired ability to perform regular daytime activities
- Your partner has told you that you snore loudly and sometimes seem to stop breathing.
It is important to explore the possible causes of your difficulty with sleeping and/or daytime sleepiness and try to find a solution. One way to evaluate the quality of your sleep and to see whether you have a sleep disorder is to know the characteristics of various sleep disorders. Keeping track of your sleep habits by keeping a sleep diary may also help you and your doctor identify the problem.
Sleep Disorder Warning Signs
Ask yourself the following questions about your sleep. Do you:
- Fall asleep while driving?
- Struggle to stay awake when inactive, such as when watching television or reading?
- Have difficulty paying attention or concentrating at work, school, or home?
- Have performance problems at work or school?
- Often get told by others that you look tired?
- Have difficulty with your memory?
- Have slowed responses?
- Have difficulty controlling your emotions?
- Feel the need to take naps almost every day?
If you experience one or more of these characteristics, you may have a sleep disorder.
Keeping a Sleep Diary
In order to determine if you have a sleep disorder, pay attention to your sleep habits by keeping a sleep diary and discussing patterns and characteristics of your sleep with your doctor. It is important to note that insomnia can be a sleep disorder, or a symptom of another problem. Many common sleep problems can be resolved with behavioral treatments and increased attention to proper sleep hygiene. Consult your doctor if you have any concerns about your sleep patterns.
What to Expect at the Doctor
Your doctor will give you a full physical examination and ask you about your symptoms, lifestyle, medical history, and any other illnesses you might have. If there is no obvious cause for your symptoms or if your sleeplessness and daytime tiredness continue, your doctor might suggest a sleep study.
That’s when you sleep in a special room where a medical team can monitor what happens in your brain and body. You usually have small sensors stuck to your head and chest or elsewhere. There are no needles involved. The team will look for possible sleep disruptions. They’ll pay attention to a number of things including:
- Eye movements
- Breathing rate
- Body movements
- Blood oxygen levels
It might take a couple of weeks for your medical team to organize and analyze the information. You’ll make another appointment to discuss the results.