- Insomnia may be caused by a wide range of factors including physical discomfort or psychological problems.
- Doctors use various tools and tests to observe sleep disorder symptoms, diagnose sleep disorders, and analyze their root causes.
- Diagnosing sleep disorders can be a matter of life or death, as when a patient is a victim of one of the rare types of insomnia like Sporadic Fatal Insomnia (SFI).
Insomnia is the inability to sleep that people of all ages can experience. It may be caused by a wide range of factors including physical discomfort or psychological problems. There is a direct relationship between insomnia and psychosocial factors. Factors such as increased age, conflicts with relatives, increased household chores, sickness of family members, office work overload, and other social and psychological factors all have a bearing on an individual's well-being. It is therefore rather easy for doctors to predict that a person suffering from a sleep disturbance is probably experiencing one or more of these. However, there is no specific approach tailored for doctors to diagnose insomnia because the symptoms are unique to every patient.
Doctors use various tools to measure sleep disorder symptoms. A sleep diary, or sleep log, is one of them; it’s where the patient keeps a record of their sleep patterns, noting down their bedtime, their wake up time, and times of the day when they feel drowsy or very sleepy. This is then used by a doctor whose aim is to get to the bottom of what is causing insomnia. A sleep diary, if diligently maintained, can be the most effective way for a doctor to diagnose the root cause of insomnia. A doctor can prescribe the best medication once he diagnoses the exact problem and has probed its side effects.
Secondly, a doctor may choose to use a sleep inventory, a tool that helps the diagnosing physician do an in-depth study of the patient’s personal health, sleep patterns, and medical history. This helps the doctor figure out whether the insomnia is a result of other previous health issues or an independent problem that the patient is just starting to experience. While insomnia can be viewed from the perspective of genetic predisposition, the disorder is most likely to arise because of stress and tension as well as other factors like age and the person’s sex.
Blood tests also come in handy for patients for whom the doctor has explored all possible causes of the problem and found no probable cause amongst them. The doctor performs a blood test to completely rule out the possibility that the sleep disorder is an occurrence caused as a side effect of some medical problem such as a thyroid disorder that the patient is likely suffering from. In such a case, the solution to the sleep disturbance is treating the root medical problem, and consequently you will have solved the patient’s sleep problem.
Polysomnography is also a useful tool in diagnosing sleep disorders. It’s a non-invasive test that helps the physician gather information about the patient's sleep pattern. Polysomnography involves a process where the patient goes through an overnight sleep study while connected to a polysomnography machine--a machine that comprehensively records the biophysiological changes throughout the sleep stages undergone by the subject. The reason a doctor would opt to use this tool is that it can be used to measure a wide scope of things such as heart and breathing patterns, oxygen levels, and body movements. The data on these are instrumental in telling what factors are causing or contributing to the patient's troubles. A PSG report indicates the possible causes that otherwise may not have been detected by any other sort of test or criteria.
The doctor may also decide to just give the patient a simple quiz whose answers will provide indicators as to whether the person is suffering from insomnia. The questions will read like, what time does the patient go to sleep? What time do they wake and do they take naps as the day goes along? Other points of interest may be whether the patient has trouble falling asleep, or whether their concern is that they wake up too early, and how many times a week they have trouble sleeping. It has been realized by scientists that to diagnose insomnia, a doctor must be willing to dig and probe into the personal life of the individual through his questions. The more concise and straightforward the questions, the greater the chances that the person will respond with an answer that will be genuine and useful--proving to be an asset for both the doctor and the patient. It’s more of a psychological evaluation as the doctor needs to delve into the minute details of the person’s life. Does their work require them to put in too many extra hours? If they are married, are they experiencing any problems in their marriage? Are they are suffering from depression or a nervous breakdown? It is necessary that the patient be as honest as possible with their answers. Otherwise, the final diagnosis will be wrong.
Diagnosing sleep disorders can be a matter of life or death, as when a patient is a victim of one of the rare types of insomnia like Sporadic Fatal Insomnia (SFI). Due to its extremely rare occurrence, doctors have to be very quick and keen in order to recognize that their patient is suffering from its specific conditions. SFI is a rare genetic sleep disorder that is characterized by an autosomal dominant inherited brain disease. It is caused by the genetic mutations that cause prion, or proteins gone mad. SFI is mainly suffered by people in their middle age, and as its consequences, the disease makes the patient experience symptoms such as hallucinations, insomnia, paranoia, and dementia. The diagnosing physician must then look for these signs in their patient to enable them to live a high-quality, long life despite there being no known cure for SFI thus far. A big challenge, therefore, remaining for doctors diagnosing sleep disorders is that diagnosis heavily depends on their intuition and the patient's sincerity in revealing issues they may be dealing with in their personal lives. Therefore, a person suffering from insomnia must ensure that he is honest and vocal in sharing his circumstances and experiences with his doctor. The doctor is indeed the best resort for proper treatment of the disorder, but proper treatment can only come if patients are candid and forthright about what they are undergoing in terms of the circumstances of their lives as well as their emotions.