Insomnia - Diagnosis - Diagnosis

If lack of sleep is affecting your daily activities, talk to your doctor. You may be diagnosed with insomnia if you have difficulty falling or staying asleep for at least 3 nights a week. Short-term insomnia lasts less than 3 months. Chronic insomnia lasts for 3 months or more. Your doctor may do more tests to see whether your insomnia has caused any complications.

It may be helpful to keep a sleep diary for 1 to 2 weeks before seeing your doctor. A sleep diary can help your doctor understand your sleep problem and whether certain activities are affecting your sleep. Write down when you go to sleep, wake up, and take naps each day. Also write down how sleepy you feel throughout the day, when you drink caffeine or alcohol, and when you exercise.

You can print and use the NHLBI’s sleep diary.

Medical history and physical exam

Your doctor will want to learn about your signs and symptomsrisk factors, health history, and family health history. To better understand your sleep problem, your doctor may have you fill out a questionnaire or ask you for details such as these about your sleep habits: 

  • 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
  • How refreshed you feel when you wake up and how unrested you feel during the day
  • Whether you use electronic devices with artificial light or watch TV before bed
  • Whether you snore loudly and often or wake up gasping or feeling out of breath

To find the cause of your sleep problems, your doctor may ask whether you:

  • Have any new or ongoing health problems
  • Take any medicines
  • Are pregnant or going through menopause
  • Use caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, or illegal drugs

Your doctor will do a physical exam to rule out other medical problems that might affect your sleep. He or she will listen to your heart and lungs and look for risk factors for sleep apnea, such as large tonsils or a large neck circumference.

Diagnostic tests

In addition to finding out your medical history, your doctor may have you take the following tests.