Circadian Rhythm Disorders
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Circadian Rhythm Disorders

Circadian Rhythm Disorders Diagnosis

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To diagnose a circadian rhythm disorder, your doctor may review your medical history; ask about your symptoms, sleep patterns, and environment; do a physical exam; and order diagnostic tests.

Medical history and physical exam

Your doctor will want to learn about your symptoms and risk factors to help diagnose a circadian rhythm disorder. To do this, your doctor may ask the following questions:

  • When, how long, and how well you sleep: If you don’t know for sure, your doctor may ask you to keep a sleep diary to help you keep track.
  • Your symptoms and when they began: Symptoms that have lasted for 3 months or more may indicate a circadian rhythm disorder.
  • Your personal and family history of health conditions
  • Your use of caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, or illegal drugs, as well as your exposure to artificial light at night: These lifestyle habits may cause insomnia or tiredness.
  • Whether you are pregnant or undergoing menopause

Your doctor may also examine you. A physical exam can help your doctor rule out other medical conditions that may prevent good-quality sleep, such as chronic pain, heart or lung diseases, or large tonsils or small airways that may be a sign of sleep apnea.

Diagnostic tests

Your doctor may recommend one or more of the following tests:

  • Actigraphy involves wearing a small motion sensor for 3 to 14 days to measure your sleep-wake cycles.
  • Sleep studies measure how well you sleep and how your body responds to sleep problems.

Your doctor may do other studies to look at your natural patterns of sleep and wakefulness. Your doctor may repeatedly measure your body temperature and the levels of melatonin and cortisol in your blood or saliva. The way these rise and fall over time can help determine the type of circadian rhythm disorder you may have. Read more about how melatonin, cortisol, and body temperature work in How Sleep Works.

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