Sleep Deprivation and Deficiency Diagnosis
How can my doctor tell if I am sleep deprived?
Doctors might not identify sleep problems during routine office visits because patients are awake, so let your doctor know if you think you might have a sleep problem.
For example, talk with your doctor if you often feel sleepy during the day, don't wake up feeling refreshed and alert, or are having trouble adapting to shift work.
To get a better sense of your sleep problem, your doctor will ask you about your sleep habits. Before you see the doctor, think about how to describe your problems, including:
- How often you have trouble sleeping and how long you've had the problem
- When you go to bed and get up on workdays and days off
- How long it takes you to fall asleep, how often you wake up at night, and how long it takes you to fall back asleep
- Whether you snore loudly and often or wake up gasping or feeling out of breath
- How refreshed you feel when you wake up, and how tired you feel during the day
- How often you doze off or have trouble staying awake during routine tasks, especially driving
Your doctor also may ask questions about your personal routine and habits. For example, they may ask about your work and exercise routines. Your doctor also may ask whether you use caffeine, tobacco, alcohol, or any medicines (including over-the-counter medicines).
To help your doctor, consider keeping a sleep diary for a few weeks.
- Write down when you go to sleep, wake up, and take naps. (For example, you might note: Went to bed at 10 a.m.; woke up at 3 a.m. and couldn't fall back asleep; napped after work for 2 hours.)
- Write down how much you sleep each night, how alert and rested you feel in the morning, and how sleepy you feel at various times during the day.
Doctors can diagnose some sleep disorders by asking questions about sleep schedules and habits and by getting information from sleep partners or parents. To diagnose other sleep disorders, doctors also use the results from sleep studies and other medical tests.
Sleep studies, also called polysomnography, are painless tests that measure how well you sleep and how your body responds to sleep problems. They are also used to help your doctor diagnose sleep disorders.
The most common type of sleep studies records brain waves and monitor your heart rate, breathing, and the oxygen level in your blood during a full night of sleep.
Other ways to study your sleep include:
- Multiple sleep latency tests measure how quickly you fall asleep during a series of daytime naps and use sensors to record your brain activity and eye movements.
- A daytime maintenance of wakefulness test measures your ability to stay awake and alert.
- Activity monitors help doctors see how much you sleep and how well you sleep. They are worn at home for several days or sometimes weeks.
Sleep tests can help your doctor diagnose sleep-related breathing disorders such as sleep apnea, sleep-related seizure disorders, sleep-related movement disorders, and sleep disorders that cause extreme daytime tiredness such as narcolepsy. Doctors also may use sleep tests to help diagnose or rule out restless legs syndrome.
Your doctor will determine whether you need your sleep test at a sleep center or if you can do it at home with a portable device. Sleep tests at a sleep center usually last overnight. Removable sensors will be placed on your scalp, face, eyelids, chest, limbs, and a finger. These sensors record your brain waves, heart rate, breathing effort and rate, oxygen levels, and muscle movements before, during, and after sleep. There is a small risk of irritation from the sensors, but this will go away after they are removed.
Your doctor may do a physical exam to rule out other medical problems that might interfere with sleep. You may need blood tests to check for thyroid problems or other conditions that can cause sleep problems.
How is sleep deprivation treated?
If your doctor diagnoses you with a sleep disorder, they may talk to you about healthy sleep habits. Your treatment options will depend on which type you have.
- For sleep apnea, the goals of treatment are to help keep your airways open during sleep. This may include a CPAP machine or other breathing devices, therapy, or surgery.
- For narcolepsy and insomnia, treatment options include medicines and behavior changes.