Sleep Problems

Diagnosis & Tests

Make an appointment to see your primary healthcare provider if you think you have a sleep problem. Arrange to have your bed partner accompany you, so they can accurately report on some of your symptoms. 

Your provider will review your medical history for past or current medical conditions, and possibly give you a questionnaire (for example, the Epworth Sleepiness Scale). They may also ask you questions such as:

  • Are you satisfied with your sleep?
  • Does daytime sleepiness interfere with your daytime activities?
  • Does your bed partner or family mention that you snore, stop breathing, or move your legs in your sleep?
  • Do you have leg discomfort in the evenings?
  • When do you go to sleep and when do you get up?
  • How long does it take for you to fall asleep? What do you think prevents you from falling to sleep, or getting back to sleep?
  • Do you take scheduled naps? If so, for how long?
  • Do you doze off unintentionally?
  • What medicines and other remedies do you take?
  • Do you smoke?
  • Do you drink alcohol or beverages containing caffeine?
  • Do you have pain at night?
  • Do you have to go to the bathroom at night? How often do you urinate?
  • Have there been recent events in your life that are upsetting or bothering you? 

You will be given a physical exam to check blood pressure, heart rate, lung function, and general health, and lab tests may be ordered.If you have reported pain, such as joint pain from arthritis, your healthcare provider will examine the affected areas. If you urinate frequently, you might need to have tests for bladder, kidney, or prostate conditions or for diabetes. 

Keeping a Sleep Diary

Your healthcare provider may also ask you to keep a sleep diary for a week or two to record:

  • When you go to bed and wake up
  • The length of time it takes you to fall asleep
  • How long you sleep
  • How often you wake up at night and for how long
  • Any other symptoms that occurred during the night
  • How much you napped during the day
  • Comments from a bed partner or others about each night's sleep
  • How rested you feel in the morning

Tests for Sleep Apnea

If your provider thinks that you may have sleep apnea, you may need to participate in a full night sleep study (polysomnography) in a sleep lab.

Tests for Periodic Limb Movement Disorder

The report of a bed partner may be enough to diagnose periodic limb movement disorder. However, these may also be detected during overnight testing such as polysomnography.

Tests for Circadian Rhythm Disorders

Your sleeping or waking time may be recorded by wrist actigraphy. This is a method in which a monitor is placed on your wrist and your movements are registered automatically. This test can be carried out at home and is also used for nursing home residents. Sleep diaries may also be used for the evaluation of circadian rhythm disturbances.

Tests for Restless Leg Syndrome

This is a clinical diagnosis. The diagnosis can be made solely based on your symptoms. However, it may be associated with low iron levels, so your healthcare provider may check your blood work to evaluate you for iron deficiency. If your blood iron levels are low, iron supplementation should be started.

Last Updated August 2020